I entered Yosemite National Park late at night due to being busy as hell all day.

For some reason, Google Maps made me enter the park through El Portal, and I drove along the river into the park. (Google Maps continually misdirected me around the park, which was cute.) But anyways, entering this way to get to my campground was phenomenal because I was treated to an overwhelmingly huge view of El Capitan, Yosemite’s iconic, towering granite wall, obscuring the darkening night sky.

I found my campsite, parked, and hit it and quit it. Consistently, I’ve been sleeping very little on this trip — probably the least sleep I’ve gotten over this period of time, in my life. But at least that night, I got some good rest. I awoke just after sunset, and exited my car into crisp morning, mountain air.

Amazing! The campsite was beautiful. Driving through all this stuff at night is miserable; you just get all the winding roads and none of the views. I was delighted to find the campsite decked out with nice pines, and surrounded on all sides by more huge, grey granite walls. I took some slowness to stretch and look around, and perused the map to come up with a plan for the day before setting off.

I walked from the campsite along Happy Isle Loop Road to catch Mirror Lake in the early morning light. It was an easy hike, and I couldn’t stop looking up! Everything there is just so tall! The pictures really, really don’t capture it.

Mirror lake changes with the seasons, depending on snowmelt, and is fullest in spring and early summer. When I was there, it was present, and placid, and serene.

From there, I returned to my car, and made my way around the loop in Yosemite valley. The roads there are one way, so it’s important to take care not to miss your stop, or you might be set back about a half hour depending on traffic.

The valley offers stunning views, but foremost there is the short hike up to Yosemite falls. You can see the falls from a distance, watching water tumble and stream from a height that feels impossible. The upper falls almost float downwards, and the lower falls offer a more substantial and satisfying water tumble. I walked up to the lower falls, and passed on the grueling hike to the upper falls.

In the middle of the loop stands a meadow offering serene views. The Yosemite Valley was carved out of the mountain by a travelling glacier, making it wet and temperate and smooth.

Strikingly large, the granite rockface referred to El Capitan is one of the major viewpoints in the park. There’s a bunch of people climbing it basically all the time.

Also along the valley was Bridal Veil Falls, which unfortunately was closed for my visit.

I also made the hike up the mist trails to Vernal Falls, which was marked as moderate but felt pretty damn strenuous.

The top of the falls offered a valley view as well as a large pool where people were taking a dip after the long hike up.

On the way out of the valley, toward Wawona in the South of the park, is a stopping point to get an unparalleled view of the valley from Tunnel View.

While hiking up to Vernal Falls, I met a family that made wonderful conversation with me and then accompanied me the entire way. I was super appreciative when we shared a celebratory champagne after the hike, and they invited me back to their place for a freaking awesome meal.

Travelling alone gets lonely, of course. I’ve been so thankful to meet folks along the way. People are so kind, and generous, and worthwhile. The feeling of being welcomed in to this family environment was hard to describe; everything just worked. It was invaluable to feel as though I was a part of a group. It feels indescribably pleasant to feel cared for. I’ve missed that here and there. So thank you.

After some amazing pancakes and freshly-squeezed orange juice, I headed back into Yosemite to make the drive to Glacier Point. There, I was treated to an overview of the Yosemite Valley and the resting place and pathway of the long-past glacier.

The drive back was wonderful — beautiful trees, mosses, flowers, and a Coyote passed on my way to Tioga Pass, as I was planning on leaving the park from the East.

I made a stop at Tenaya Lake for a quick nap.

The drive out of the park was beautiful. The Sierra mountain range really shines on this side of the park. Snow-capped mountains, lakes, forests, all that.

Yosemite definitely ranks HIGHLY in terms of national parks and natural areas I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. I’m really looking forward to coming back in the future, and seeing sights and hiking paths with company.