Monday, August 1, 2016

America...The Beautiful

My bucket list is pretty short.  A few things I missed the chance of seeing, like watching a Space Shuttle launch in Florida. However, most of my list consists of visiting National Parks and a few foreign countries such as Ireland and Scotland.  One of the things on my list has always been Yosemite National Park. This past week, I not only got the opportunity to cross this off my list, but I got to spend the week allowing my children to take their classroom out of the Mojave Desert and instead bring it into one of the most beautiful places in the country.

Sunday afternoon, we loaded up the car with my husband, my three children, our dog and our two tortoises and we made the 6 hour trek north to spend the week camping in the beautiful Yosemite National Park. We had made arrangements to stay overnight in Fresno and then finish the last 3 hours of driving Monday morning to allow us plenty of time to get checked in, set up camp and get situated. Even in Fresno, the smoke cover from the Sand Fire in Santa Clarita was very strong .

Exiting in Fresno at Sunset with the smoke in the background.
 Reservations for Yosemite are hard to come by and require booking 6 months in advance - even then, I was only able to find one campsite that had availability located at the northern border of the park.  However, Hodgdon Meadows proved to be a lovely campground located at an elevation of 4,900 feet.  The campground was located about 42 miles from the Yosemite Valley which meant that we had the pleasure of driving through the valley and getting a "sneak peak" ahead of time.  We all commented on the wonderful smell of pine and how fresh the air was, especially after a week of smelling the smoke from the Sand Fire, which we live very close to.  With all the curvy roads, my husband was having a ball driving our AWD Forester while the kids and I took in the sites.  Our drive first took us through the Sierra National Forest before we actually entered the Yosemite park.  Because my husband is a active duty member of the military, we had been given a free annual pass for all National Parks and Forests last year when we went to Sequoia National Forest and so we were admitted to Yosemite for free.  Otherwise, the park charges 30 dollars to enter in a personal vehicle


We arrived at Hodgdon Meadows at around 1pm, got checked in and started setting up our campsite.  When we camp, we actually camp, we don't "glamp" as they call it.. The only real luxury we take is air mattresses instead of sleeping bags - beyond that it's a tent, a camp stove and an ice cooler stocked with food for the trip.  

Once the tent and the campsite was established, it was time to collect firewood for the camp fire.  While most camp sites in the Yosemite valley requires you to purchase wood as almost everything is protected, the wood in Hodgden Meadows and the border between Yosemite and Stanislaus forest are not, so we were allowed to venture out and collect wood from the surrounding area.  The only requirement was that the sticks must fit into the fire pit without any overhang (for safety reasons).  There were also no restrictions on when we could burn a fire so we were able cook our meals on the campfire - other campsites had a restriction stating fires could only be burned during 5pm to 10pm. 

Charles collecting Firewood

Getting the tent set up
One of the gifts that I gave Charles for Father's Day was a hammock.  This turned out to be the highlight of our campsite for the kids as they used it almost constantly while in the camp site - from the minute they woke up til the time we retired for the night.  Poor Dad didn't get near as much use as he would have wished since they hogged it most of the time.  (I will most likely purchase a 2nd hammock for the kids before our next camping trip).

The first day of our trip, we basically stayed at our campsite and relaxed.  There was another campsite close by that had a number of other children and they invited the kids over to do some arts and crafts with them. While Garrett declined (he's not the artsy type), Ashleigh and Alyssa went over to the adjacent campground to make friends and make some glitter artwork while Garrett looked on. 

Ashleigh's Finished Art Work
Garrett, being the boy that he is, had fun playing on a stump and getting dirty..   This gave me the opportunity to take what turned out to be one of my favorite photographs of him - dirty face, dirty jeans and his shoes untied but happy and content out in the great outdoors.

For dinner that night, we roasted hotdogs on the fire and then followed up with making s'mores.  Once it was dark, the kids sat in the hammock swinging and singing many of the folk songs that we have learned over the last few months such as The Sky Boat Song, Down by Salley Garden, and The Lion Sleeps Tonight along with many other random songs. We also spent some time reading from a few of our books and listening to stories such as "How the Leopard Got It's Spots".    Around midnight, we put the fire out and called it a night. 

Day 2

Rise and Shine.....We managed to sleep til about 9am after a pretty good night's rest.  The kids instantly went to the hammock while I made camp coffee and Dad got more firewood for a small fire to make breakfast.  With the fire going, we threw foil wrapped breakfast burritos on the fire for a few moments and had a nice hot breakfast along with some java to get the day started. 

With temperatures in the low 90s, we opted to head about 12 miles up the road into the Stanislaus National Forest to a swimming hole called Rainbow Pools. Rainbow Pools is a natural swimming hole on the south fork of the Tuolumne River and is a hidden gem located off of Hwy 120 - if you don't know it's there you'll pass it without every realizing it.  The water is cool and clear and it's even dog friendly so Kenny even got to get a bit of swimming in with us.  None of us were brave enough to climb the granite cliff and plunge into the pool but we had lots of fun swimming and watching other people jumping.  

After a few hours of swimming, we headed back to camp for a lunch of Frito Pies and we started our daily camp preparations of collecting firewood, cleaning dishes, collecting water (the campsite had a well on site) and other necessities needed to be done before the end of the night.  Dad and I also had to head to a nearby General Store located about 6 miles from our campsite to get ice to refresh our cooler to keep everything cool for the remainder of our trip as well as get gas for the car to make the trip to the valley the next day.  We also enjoyed admiring some of the wildlife visiting our campsite such as the Stellar Jays, White Headed Woodpeckers, Velvet Ants and Squirrels as well as enjoyed the antics of the eating tortoises. 

White Headed Woodpecker

Stellar Jay
For those unfamiliar with Velvet Ants - I will give you a warning.  They are not ants but are actually a variety of wingless wasps often referred to as Cow Killer Ants.  They can be any color but typically have either red or orange fur on a black body.  These guys pack a pretty nasty punch so they are not something you want to pick up and handle, however, for the most part they are non-aggressive and are easily watched from a safe distance.

Velvet Ant (Do Not Touch - it's actually a Wingless Wasp)
Once Dad (with the help of Garrett) got the fire made, we enjoyed a dinner of turkey burgers and bbq chips along with more s'mores for dessert. Even Kenny got a few marshmellows (no chocolate for the doggy) and disagreed when we told him he couldn't have but a couple.  The night was spent once again enjoying a campfire, singing songs and telling stories and just enjoying being a family together. 

The Men Folk Making a Fire

Day 3

Day three was what everyone was looking forward to - the day we went to the Valley.  Once again we were up around 8-9am and enjoyed another breakfast on the campfire - this time some sausage, egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches I had made ahead of time on English Muffins and wrapped in foil. While we were eating, we were watching the antics of the squirrels who were invading an adjacent campsite that had been left unattended - more about this later.  Once we were filled up, we loaded up the car and headed down to the valley.  

We started our exploration by just driving around and checking out the Half Dome Village and Yosemite Village as well as observing El Capitan which soared about 3,000 foot over our heads.  After driving a bit, we decided to hike up to the Bridalveil Falls observation area.  (We were limited where we could hike as many trails do not allow dogs). 

El Capitan

A Small Church located near Half Dome Village

Bridalveil Falls Seen from a Distance
Bridalveil Falls from the Observation Point
 After being in the valley for a bit, we headed up towards Glacier Point, a picturesque observation trail 7,214 feet above the valley floor.  This point gives a great view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Nevada Falls, Vernal Falls and Clouds Rest.

Driving to Glacier Point

Half Dome

Nevada Falls (upper falls) and Vernal Falls (Lower Falls)
After several hours down in the valley, we headed back up to our campsite.  Remember those squirrels I mentioned?? Well, they had done a number on the neighboring campsite.  They had failed to secure their belongings in the bear box and the squirrels had raided their campsite.  There was paper towels, toilet paper and other stuff scattered all around.   The owners of this site didn't return til around 10pm that night and found this mess, I almost felt sorry for them.
Squirrel Raided Campsite
After a dinner of bratwurst and camp potatoes and more roasted marshmallows (we ran out of chocolate for the S'mores) we sat down and had a lesson out of our Apologia Astronomy book.   We decided since we had such a great view of the starry sky, we would skip to the lesson about the stars.  After learning about the Big Dipper, Polaris (the North Star) and Sirius, we located them in the sky above us.  We also broke out our small telescope and looked at some of the star clusters we could find overhead. 

Our astronomy lesson worked out PERFECTLY for us that night.  First, with such a dark sky, we were able to find the International Space Station as it flew overhead and watch as it made its way across the sky. However, about 90 minutes later, we saw a fireball in the sky.  As we watched it, it grew brighter.  It took about a minute from the time we noticed it until it was out of view.  While we had no idea specifically what it was, we knew it was most likely some sort of "space junk" reentering the Earth's atmosphere.

Since we had no internet access where we were, we had to wait til the following day when we on our way home, when we discovered that what we had observed was a Chinese CZ-7 rocket that had launched a few days before.  It was a really cool experience to get to see it. 

Unfortunately, the next day it was time for us to head home.. We had a breakfast of oatmeal (I had made "instant" packets ahead of time with old fashioned oats, chia seeds, protein powder, powdered milk and brown sugar) along with more coffee and then broke down our campsite.  We have a rule that we always leave our campsite better than we found it so we spent a bit of time picking up all the litter we could find.  Check out was at 11am, so after a final look around, we said farewell to our campsite and started our 6 hour trek back home - not hotel stop this time as my husband had to work the next day.

But we did get one final picture of Yosemite before heading out. 

God's Paintbrush is AMAZING!!

This post is part of the the Homeschool Review Crew's Field Trip Inspiration Round up. For other great field trip ideas from around the country, be sure to click the image below :)

Field Trip Inspiration {Round UP}

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