Tucked away in the southwest corner of the park, away from the hustle and bustle of the Valley, Wawona offers a vastly different Yosemite experience. There is a smaller valley near Wawona with a nice waterfall and some good hikes, but the area’s main attraction is Mariposa Grove – a strand of about 500 mature sequoias, the only ones to be seen in this park.
We only spent a night at Wawona and had a lot of distance to cover to get to Lake Tahoe the next day. We meant to get going in the early afternoon, after a quick visit to the grove, but found it nearly impossible to leave Yosemite. We did not hike a lot, but took our time ambling among the giant sequoias, trying to wrap our minds around the immense size of these, the largest trees in the world.
Though not as tall as the coastal redwoods we saw in the Muir Woods, the sequoias are quite a lot more voluminous. They are so massive, in fact, that many of them have branches that by themselves are tree-sized. Even reading the info placards and looking at these huge trees in person, it was difficult to fully grasp the extent of their magnitude. Small wonder then that when the frontiersmen discovered sequioas and cut one down to display at America’s centennial celebration they were not believed, and the 300-foot tree they cut down and reassembled was thought to be a hoax.
Though located an hour’s drive from the Valley, Mariposa Grove had its fair share of visitors, most of whom walked the mile-long trail from the parking lot to the Grizzly Giant tree in Mariposa’s lower grove. There was also a tram that offered an interpretive driving tour through the grove, stopping at the more remarkable trees, for those who could not or did not want to walk through the woods. Thankfully, the crowds thinned out quite a bit after the Grizzly Giant, and we were able to explore the upper grove, which contains the majority of Mariposa’s mature sequoias, in relative solitude.
We lingered a bit at the museum in the upper grove, chatting with a pair of volunteer park rangers, one of whom grew up in Yosemite, accompanying his father, who worked as a park ranger, on horseback trips through the Yosemite back country. Eventually it was time to leave the majestic grove of sequoias and return to our car for the long drive to Tahoe.
There are quite a number of places that can be crossed off one’s bucket list after one visit and never revisited again. Yosemite is most definitely not one of them. No sooner had we left the park than we started planning a return, hopefully during our next home leave.