As this post’s title indicates, this was my second trip to Yosemite. But the story it doesn’t tell was that this was also my and Seth’s second attempt to make the trip together. We’d originally planned Yosemite + Lake Tahoe for last August, only to have wildfires force a last-minute cancellation.
We knew we’d made the right decision when the Lake Tahoe area ended up being evacuated at the time we would have been there. But still, it’s always hard postponing a much anticipated adventure. And Yosemite was definitely that for me! I fell in love with it when I first visited on a class trip my senior year of high school, so returning has long been a high priority – especially with this awesome place left unchecked on our National Parks list until Seth also saw it.
The good news is that our forced rescheduling came with several silver linings. A big one for me was that by opting for spring travel to avoid another wildfire season, this Yosemite trip ended up falling the same week as my first – just two decades later! Which was nice not only in celebrating that anniversary but also in seeing the park in the same awesome conditions as when I first encountered it, with waterfalls at peak flow. And while I’m sure Yosemite is stunning at any time, I’m very glad Seth’s initial experience of it looked a lot like mine.
Another silver lining was that in the place of Lake Tahoe – which we’d still like to visit sometime as a summer destination, hopefully sans wildfires – we added two more incredible National Parks to this trip. And while they may have been an afterthought of sorts in that they weren’t on our original itinerary, we really loved Kings Canyon and Sequoia and now count them high on our list of favorite parks!
All that to say: This was an incredible trip and likely even better than the one originally planned. It also holds the special status of being the trip where we reached the halfway point (31/63) in our National Parks quest! So without further ado, here’s a look at all those silver linings in photo + video form:
– feature film –
See the occasion come alive in these video highlights!
day 1 • 05.03.22
Kansas City >>> California
We started our journey by securing the very last seats together at the very back of the plane! Seth was very sweet in letting me have the window seat on all four of our flights this trip, and I certainly made good use of it:
After a layover in Las Vegas (above), we were just another quick flight from California.
Two exciting signs (above): One for Yosemite and one for our street at home! This was actually the second Gateway Drive we’ve come across in California – and with a pattern now established, I guess we need to look for one every time we visit.
We had a two-hour drive from Fresno Yosemite International Airport to our motel in El Portal, a town right outside of Yosemite. I was a big fan of the bear statues outside Yosemite Cedar Lodge (especially one in particular):
The Merced River was right across the street from where we stayed. It flows through Yosemite and was much mightier just a short distance upstream – but this little taste of it was still an exciting preview of all the power and majesty we were about to experience!
day 2 • 05.04.22
Yosemite National Park
It was 10:10 a.m. when we left our lodge for the short drive to Yosemite’s entrance. But after stopping for photos and drone-flying beside the park sign, we weren’t on our way again until 11:11 a.m.! I blame the Merced River, which was just so magical to capture.
When I arrived in Yosemite the first time around, it was not a sunny and warm day like this one. It was actually quite the opposite, with gray skies and falling snow – which made for a stunning first impression but also required investing in some different outerwear. Thus prior to setting out on a long hike, many of my classmates and I purchased yellow ponchos from the park store.
I knew that for this trip, I wanted to harken back somehow to that yellow poncho from 20 years ago. I do still have it – and actually brought it to capture in a couple of detail shots – but for this day in Yosemite Valley opted for wearing a (significantly more flattering) yellow skirt rather than recreating my original outfit exactly!
Once (finally!) in the park, we almost immediately came across El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall (both above right, and the waterfall is also at below left).
After finding a pewter magnet to add to our collection, we made our way to Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America:
Continuing our walk around Yosemite Valley, we were surrounded by incredible views. Above is Half Dome, a Yosemite icon rising almost 5,000 feet from the valley floor. And below is Yosemite Chapel, the oldest structure in Yosemite Valley. We saw quite a bit more of the valley, as well – in large part because we somehow managed to get lost in what I assume is one of the least likely places in the park for that to happen! Seth said he must have been having a Jesus moment, miraculously multiplying (what should have been) 2.5 miles into 5.
As the sun set, we were on the hunt for a good golden-hour photo spot. And what better backdrop than El Capitan (captured here from El Capitan Meadow). The granite walls of this Yosemite icon rise more than 3,000 feet from the Valley floor, making it more than twice as tall as the Empire State Building. It’s also one of the world’s ultimate challenges for rock climbers, who often appear as small dots scaling it.
While we were taking these portraits, a guy approached saying he wanted to offer me a gift, and I was fully expecting a religious tract of some sort. But instead, he said my outfit against this backdrop had caught his attention and that he thought I might like some behind-the-scenes photos taken with my phone of me working with my camera. Which I really thought was so thoughtful and kind, and I certainly appreciate the pictures and video clips he took. So if Brian from Lake Tahoe sees this: Thank you again!
Above: The Yosemite poncho from my first-ever day in the park, alongside the yellow skirt it inspired me to wear on this first day of my return trip!
Out last stop of the day was at Tunnel View, a scenic viewpoint that showcases El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall. It’s also famous as the subject of an Ansel Adams photo. And it draws its name from its location near Wawona Tunnel (below right), which at nearly a mile is the longest highway tunnel in California.
day 3 • 05.05.22
Yosemite National Park
This was another excitement- and nostalgia-filled day in Yosemite, as we set out to do the same 7-mile Vernal and Nevada Falls hike I did my first time in the park. We parked beside the Curry Village tent cabins – which is where my group stayed during that trip 20 years ago – and made our way about a mile to the Mist Trail trailhead (an added distance that actually made the hike more like 9 miles).
This hike is what truly solidified Yosemite’s awe-inspiring status for my 18-year-old self. I was so eager to experience it again and to firm up my hazy memories from the trail, which follows the Merced River a few miles to Vernal Fall. That’s where the Mist Trail truly earns its name, with waterfall mist completely soaking hikers – at least when the fall is at peak flow, as it was for us.
Having had cloudy skies the first time I did this hike, the rainbows that were out in full force this time were a beautiful first! And I’m sure this waterfall is incredible no matter how many times you see it. Note all the water flying through the frame in the photo at below right:
After climbing the long, slippery stone staircase to the top of Vernal Fall, we stopped for a snack and to meet some new friends (below). Then we were ready to continue our trek to the top of Nevada Fall.
The one photo I have of myself from this hike the first time around shows Nevada Fall in the background, and I knew I wanted to recreate that shot as closely as I could this time. What I hadn’t realized, though, is that there actually are two different routes for reaching that waterfall, and I had no idea which one I’d hiked the first time! So Seth and I just took the way we preferred and hoped for the best.
Fortunately, we picked right – and right as we came upon it, I recognized the spot along the trail where that first photo had been taken. I’m pretty certain that tree behind me (below) is the same as is in my original photo, and I loved seeing how it’s grown in the two decades since we last crossed paths.
Above: Me 20 years apart in the exact same spot, wearing a new Yosemite poncho in the first shot and a new Yosemite hat in the second. But a lot was different, of course – including the fact that the first photo was shot on film while the second was digital. And how crazy I would have found it two decades ago to know that my next time on this hike, I’d carry a cell phone that would double as my video camera for the experience!
Seth posed with me for a shot in “my” spot, but a little father along the trail, I decided he also needed his own photo with a Nevada Fall backdrop (below) for recreating in the future!
Finally, we reached the top of this incredible waterfall we’d seen in the distance for so long!
I really didn’t want to leave the waterfall. But we at least had plenty of beauty still to see on our return hike, including a consistent view of Half Dome for quite a while. The Mist Trail actually is one of the routes for reaching its summit – but even if we’d been up for that challenge and had lucked out in the permit lottery, we were in Yosemite a few weeks before Half Dome opened to hikers for the season.
For the last few miles back to Yosemite Valley, we took the John Muir Trail – a 214-mile route through the Sierra Nevada mountain range that’s (obviously) named for John Muir, whose activism was instrumental in the 1890 formation of Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.
Above: We knew we were getting closer to the valley when we could clearly see Yosemite Falls in the distance. And below: Seth left some sweet artwork in a patch of snow.
After one last stop to take in the Merced River, we made our way back to the start of the Mist Trail. This hike had been even better than I’d remembered, perhaps especially since the weather was so much nicer this time. Instead of drizzle and snow, we had a temperature so ideal it didn’t even register, because I was perfectly neutral in it – not even a little on the warm or cool side.
It’s also worth noting that despite the high expectations long held in my memory, this hike didn’t disappoint. It remains one of my all-time favorites, even with all I’ve seen and done in the two decades since my first Yosemite experience. And now, Seth counts this hike and this park as favorites of his, too!
day 4 • 05.06.22
Yosemite National Park >>> Sequoia National Forest
We had one more partial day in Yosemite before heading three hours south to our next destination. We opted to spend it soaking in a little more of Yosemite Valley, starting at Valley View (below). Visible from this point along the Merced River are El Capitan, Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Fall.
We also hit Tunnel View one more time, to see it at a different time of day than before. And while I generally prefer golden-hour light, I actually really liked this spot in full sun and blue skies. Above is a side-by-side of the famous Ansel Adams photo (at left) and my attempt to shoot the scene with the same framing.
On our way south out of the park, we stopped in the Mariposa Grove area – home to Yosemite’s giant sequoias. With the shuttle to the grove not yet running for the season, however, it would have taken a 4-mile roundtrip hike just to reach the grove’s trailheads. We didn’t have time for that but did hike about 2.5 miles in their general area, through some trees that were still reasonably large, if not true giants. And we knew we had plenty of those giants ahead of us, anyway, at our next two parks!
For the remainder of the trip, we stayed in a tiny cabin in the Giant Sequoia National Monument section of Sequoia National Forest, outside Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. The National Monument consists of 328,000 acres and encompasses all but one of the 39 giant sequoia groves located in Sequoia National Forest.
As hard as it was to say a second goodbye to Yosemite, having two more parks still ahead of us definitely helped ease that disappointment! It was also nice to have a welcoming committee outside our cabin:
day 5 • 05.07.22
Kings Canyon National Park & Sequoia National Forest
Next up was Kings Canyon National Park, which consists of eastern and western sections divided by Sequoia National Forest. We started on the west side, which is home to General Grant Grove. This area once was its own National Park, until it became part of Kings Canyon. And its namesake, a giant sequoia named General Grant, is the third-largest tree in the world.
Above: Fallen Monarch, believed to have succumbed to fire more than 300 years ago. That tunnel down its middle allows for walking all the way through it.
Centennial Stump, above, is what’s left of a giant sequoia that was cut down and shipped in pieces to the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876. I found it sad that the tree was cut down and even sadder that its sacrifice wasn’t successful in convincing people back East that giant sequoias actually existed; they deemed the reconstructed version a “California hoax.” But I do understand how unbelievable these trees are, so can’t necessarily blame them!
Finally we made it to General Grant! … And along with its breathtaking size also encountered the challenge of getting the entirety of such a giant specimen in our camera frame. This was a repeated predicament during our days at Kings Canyon and Sequoia, and while we used our Canon as much as possible, sometimes the iPhone camera’s panoramic capabilities had to come to the rescue! Thus the two shots above and the two below actually are vertoramas (panoramas shot vertically).
After leaving General Grant Grove and stopping at an overlook (above), we made our way through Sequoia National Forest toward the other portion of the National Park. We stopped partway at Hume Lake, crashing a Christian camp there in search of fuel for our car and ourselves. And it proved to be a really pretty lunch spot:
Because we weren’t actually in the National Park at this point, we were able to fly our drone for shots of Hume Lake as well as the portion of the Sierra Nevadas that surround Kings Canyon. That namesake canyon is on the park’s east side – and as we drove along the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway in that direction, a navigation notice about a road closure made us a little nervous. But as any seasoned traveler knows, sometimes you just have to (foolishly) ignore those warnings in hopes they won’t actually impact you!
Despite our hopes, we found upon reaching Boyden Cavern – not far from Kings Canyon – that the road into that portion of the park had been closed for two and a half weeks due to a rockslide. I’d normally advocate for paying more attention to National Park news alerts so as to not be caught by surprise by this sort of thing. But as it was, being blissfully unaware – until we weren’t – probably served us just about as well in this case.
We learned that the road was scheduled to reopen in two days, just one day before our return home. So we crossed our fingers for no delay in that and, in the meantime, used the closed road as an opportunity to walk beside the river that carved Kings Canyon.
We then made our way back to the opposite side of the park, stopping along the way at Junction View:
Back on the west side of the National Park, we stopped at Big Stump Grove to wrap up our day with one more giant sequoia:
day 6 • 05.08.22
Sequoia National Park
This day took us down to Sequoia National Park, where we looked forward to seeing more of the giant trees we’d gotten a taste of at Kings Canyon the day before. We spent most of our time here in the park’s Giant Forest area, which is home to half of the world’s largest and longest-living trees!
Our first stop, though – rather than at a sequoia grove – was at the Moro Rock Trail. This half-mile out-and-back hike climbs a granite dome and gives scenic views of the surrounding area … unless, that is, you end up hiking in a cloud.
Which was exactly our situation, with sunny skies giving way to thick fog by the time we reached the trailhead. But hiking through fog is its own kind of fun, and as we explored some sequoia groves later on, I thought the foggy forest looked like something out of a film – and actually allowed for capturing some of my very favorite images of the trip!
Above: The view from the top of the Moro Rock Trail. I had to have faith in the great view I certainly couldn’t see! But Seth, being a bit wary of heights, decided it was just as well he couldn’t tell what was on the other side of that guardrail. (Also, I may seem silly wearing sunglasses with no sun in sight – but it’s evident from Seth’s squinting that it was actually pretty bright!)
Driving from Moro Rock to Tunnel Log along Crescent Meadow Road, we passed this awesome fallen sequoia and had to stop for portraits against its roots. It’s since occurred to me that a good description of sequoias is that they are mountains of trees. If a mountain took tree form, it would surely look something like these.
Also along Crescent Meadow Road were other stunning sequoias, including the one above with a giant burn scar and the Parker Group (below).
We’d taken our sweet time exploring the forest but finally made it to Tunnel Log, created when a giant sequoia fell across Crescent Meadow Road in 1937. The tunnel for cars to pass through was carved the next year, measuring 8 feet tall and 17 feet wide.
We next hiked the Crescent Meadow Trail, which gives views not only of the meadow but also of Tharp’s Log and Chimney Tree (more on those below).
Tharp’s Log (above and below) is a hollowed giant sequoia in Log Meadow that was used as a shelter by early pioneers. It’s named for Hale Dixon Tharp, a miner in the California gold rush who was the first non-Native American settler to enter the Giant Forest.
Continuing along the trail, we came across this fallen sequoia that now has tiny trees growing from it. And then we reached Chimney Tree (below), a sequoia that burned in 1914 but has maintained much of its exterior structure.
Our next stop was the Big Trees Trail, which circles Round Meadow – considered one of the best sequoia habitats within the Giant Forest. Informational signs along the trail describe what makes a good sequoia habitat, including soil that’s moist but not too wet; an open, sunny forest; a climate that’s not too cold; and bare, ashy ground created by periodic forest fires.
While sequoias are well suited for surviving fires – having bark that’s not very flammable and that contains air pockets for insulating wood from heat – other trees don’t fare so well, and the ground cleared by their demise allows the surviving sequoias more access to water, nutrients and sun.
Another fact I found interesting is that despite being so massive, sequoias require very little soil. The bedrock in this area is very near the surface, which makes if difficult for some trees to take root. But sequoias’ shallow roots (like those on the fallen tree above) can support a massive tree in less than 3 feet of earth.
Also interesting: These giant trees originate from tiny cones like the one I’m holding below!
One of my favorite sights in the park was Ed by Ned (above right), a pair of giant sequoias that have grown together. I stood in their footprint (below), which really gives perspective on just how massive they are! But our biggest tree of the day – and actually, the biggest tree in the entire world – was still to come.
We saved the best and biggest for last: General Sherman! This undisputed king of the Giant Forest is not only the largest tree in the world but also the world’s largest living organism, by volume. It’s more than 2,000 years old, weighs about 2.7 million pounds and measures about 275 feet tall and 100 feet wide.
General Sherman is also the ultimate example of how a mature sequoia looks. While young sequoias have pointed tops and branches all the way down their trunks to soak up as much solar energy as possible, the tops of the trees flatten as they rise above the surrounding canopy, and their lower branches fall away from fire or lack of sun. Especially old sequoias like General Sherman actually are dead at the top and have reached their full height, but they continue to grow wider.
And what an unbelievable sight to see and stand beside:
After reluctantly leaving this amazing tree and backtracking up the trail, we stopped for one last shot of me in Sherman’s sizable footprint:
day 7 • 05.09.22
Kings Canyon National Park & Sequoia National Forest
On this last day before flying home, we were so glad to find that the road to the eastern portion of Kings Canyon had in fact reopened on schedule after its weeks-long rockslide closure. It would have been a bit of a bummer to come this far and not visit the park’s namesake canyon, so we considered ourselves very fortunate that we hadn’t planned to head home just one day earlier … or that the road hadn’t reopened just one day later!
One of the first notable sights on this side of the park was this (presumably) still operational payphone (below). I of course had to photograph it with my iPhone – a testament of sorts to the passage of time and the progress of technology.
At the base of Kings Canyon is Cedar Grove, which is considered comparable to Yosemite Valley. I found it pretty fitting that we’d started this trip with Yosemite’s impressive mountains and river and waterfalls, then ended it with Kings Canyon’s version of these features. And with rushing water through mountains being one of my favorite things in the world, bookending this adventure as we did was definitely wonderful for me!
Our first hike in the Cedar Grove area was to Roaring River Falls – which was definitely roaring, with it being at peak flow.
After Roaring River Falls, we made our way to the Zumwalt Meadow Trail, which crosses the Kings River on an old steel suspension bridge with amazing views on either side.
On the other side of the bridge, the boardwalk into the meadow was closed. So we continued our hike through a boulder field that brought us out on another side of Zumwalt Meadow, which is considered one of the most iconic and scenic spots in Kings Canyon. One of the rock formations towering over it is North Dome (below), which rises 8,717 feet from the canyon floor.
After our return hike on the Zumwalt Meadow Trail, we made our way to Muir Rock, which extends into Kings River (and made a great photo spot!). Seth downloaded the National Park Service app prior to this trip – something we probably should have done many parks ago! – and it was helpful for accessing maps as well as information about various sights. At below left is a screenshot of what it shares about Muir Rock.
We took one last walk along the river before heading out of the National Park and back into the National Forest for our last hike of the trip. My cousin had travelled to Kings Canyon and Sequoia a year before we did, and she’d told me her favorite giant sequoia of the trip was Boole Tree. So I wanted to make sure to see it – and as an added bonus, the drive to the trailhead for that hike took us past Stump Meadow (below left).
This hike is a 2.5-mile loop that we had entirely to ourselves, other than one other couple that briefly crossed our path. I’m so glad we opted for it to end our trip, because in addition to its awesome views, it gave us the incredible experience of an otherworldly corner of the world that for a little while was only ours.
After a largely uphill trek, we all of a sudden had Boole Tree in our sights – an obvious standout among the trees around it:
Boole Tree stands in the Converse Basin Grove of Sequoia National Forest. This grove is the largest contiguous one in the world, and Boole Tree is the largest tree within the U.S. Forest Service, as well as the sixth-largest tree in the world. A number of other giant sequoias once stood around it but were cut down during a logging period in the late 1800s. Due to its great size, however, logging supervisor Franklin Boole spared this tree that later came to bear his name.
As we took in this one last sequoia, surrounded by not a single other soul in this quiet forest, it started to snow. And ironically, the snow came right after I’d removed my coat to better show “Sierra Nevada Mountains” (written under “Lake Tahoe”) on my shirt. This shirt seemed an appropriate one to wear in the Sierra Nevadas, on this trip that substituted for the Lake Tahoe one we’d originally planned!
The return portion of the hike came with continued snow flurries and gorgeous mountain views that made the 35-degree weather more than worth it.
After completing the hike, we drove back past Stump Meadow (above), which shows the remnants of historic logging as well as the growth of surrounding “young” sequoias that are about 100 years old. We also were rewarded with some wildlife sightings as we made our way back to our cabin:
day 8 • 05.10.22
California >>> Kansas City
With our flight out of Fresno not leaving until afternoon – and with us having had very few full meals during this week in the wilderness (subsisting instead on a suitcase of non-perishables) – we were eager to hit a restaurant before heading to the airport.
The food and service at Tulare Street Bistro were great. And as an added bonus, this cute outdoor seating area let us keep an eye on our vehicle – which seemed a wise thing to do, with Fresno’s reputation as the car-theft capital of the world.
We also stopped to see a couple of murals – because I love street art like this, and in the absence of enough time to really see much of a city, getting some shots against this kind of backdrop is a quick way to show you at least set foot there.
I lucked out with extra leg room in the emergency exit row on our first flight home, which also came with Rocky Mountain views (below) ahead of our layover in Denver.
We arrived home late that night to near record highs in Kansas City – for which we were definitely not acclimated, after having hiked in snow the day before. But as rough as that transition was, and as hard as it was to leave this experience behind, I know we’ll always be so thankful to have had it!
I'm a print-journalist-turned-wedding-photographer who fully believes in the value of telling true stories beautifully. By means of a camera, I am a curator so my clients can be keepers of their most important moments.
weddings over here:
take this quiz to create
a timeline for your day!
a nature trail
session in autumn
an elegant summer wedding at the elms
TIPS FOR TOP-NOTCH TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY
your wedding day