YOU'RE GOING TO NEED THEM, a voice broke through the silence and startled me. I'd been in a fog all morning. My eyes moved from the rack of snow chains on the wall to the bearded man behind the counter. "They're requiring them, just 15 miles up the road", he continued. I gave him a nod and grabbed a set, bringing them to the cash register.
We had stopped for gas just outside of Yosemite National Park in a town called Groveland, the last place before you get to before the entrance to the park. The El Niño this year has been pounding the California coast with much needed rain, so we had set out looking for snowy conditions at higher elevations - in this case - part of the Sierra Nevada.
"Just these and the coffee?" the attendant asked, hands hovering over the keys of the register.
"Yep, just these, thanks" I replied, shifting my weight from one leg to the other to fish my wallet from my back pocket.
"You're going to be glad you got these; they don't plow the roads up there this time of year"
he told us wisely.
Here's a photo we came across of the rockslide on 140
Nobody comes to Yosemite in the winter, at least not many people I know of. Thousands visit the park in the spring, summer and fall to climb the legendary rock faces and spend starry nights camping in the valley, but this time of year the conditions are harsh, the roads are slick and covered in snow, and no one is really around. A few days before we had heard about a rock slide closing Highway 140, one the main entrances to the park, so we made sure to avoid that route.
We ventured into the park and immediately pulled over to put snow chains on. The gas station attendant was right, we were going to need them. The road was completely covered in snow. We found out later when we got home that they had closed the road we came in on the day we left until spring because of the conditions.
I got out and packed some snow with my hands, molding it into the perfect sphere, and pelted Trey with it while he secured the snow chains in place.
Because that's the kind of girlfriend I am.
The kind that lovingly throws a snowball in your face every now and then. Literally and metaphorically speaking in this case. With the snow chains on, we continued along the snow covered path further into the park. Occasionally snow would fall in big masses to the ground from weighed down branches high in the trees.
THE TRUCK SLOWED as we approached a small turn-out. The dogs paced back and forth on the bench seat behind us, flattening their wet noses against the glass in anticipation of sweet impending freedom. We got out; Keeper launched herself off the seat into the great unknown only to immediately face-plant into a foot of fresh powdery snow.
"Graceful", Trey laughed.
It was Keep's first time experiencing any precipitation other than rain and she was psyched. Jack jumped out after her and they chased each other full speed through the snow.
“I wonder if they will catch snow balls”, I said while sculpting snow in my hands. Trey made a massive snowball and threw it in the air for them and they both jumped for it. Jack ate the snow because he was thirsty. They both smiled big, panty smiles. After the dogs were spent, we retreated back to the truck and incubated in it’s warmth, then continued on our way down to Yosemite valley.
The road to Yosemite Valley is paved with steep curves and winding bends. The snow began turning to light rain as we descended down the mountain. My ears popped from the pressure and made everything sound muffled like I had headphones on. The valley is really where the action is, so to speak. It's home to the monumental granite rock faces that everyone comes to climb, hike, and photograph. There's El Capitan, one of the most popular faces for rock climbing in the world, and Sentinel and Half Domes, both of which are between 3,000-5,000 feet high from the valley floor.
This jacket makes me feel like Penny Lane from Almost Famous in that scene where she takes offense to being called a groupie for Black Sabbath... "this is Penny Lane man, show some respect."
We got to the valley just before dusk and set out in a meadow to take some photos of the rock faces. My boots trudged through the deep snow as I looked back, thinking Trey was close behind me, but instead found him back at the truck taking photos of the rock faces. I heard a scuffling sound close by and turned to see a large coyote about 20 feet away, walking towards me. Our eyes locked momentarily. Careful not to spook it, I stood still and took in the wild dog in front of me. I wondered what would happen if Keeper and Jack had been with me. It’s eyes left mine and continued on, slowly looking and listening carefully for small mammals under the snow.
I looked back at Trey to see him giving me the "OK?" sign with his fingers calmly while leaning against the back of the truck - a gesture we use while scuba diving to check in on each other (when you're 30m below and have to rely on hand gestures to communicate, a simple "OK" can mean everything). I held my hand up, "OK", I motioned back to him.
The coyote made its way towards me slowly, still searching for a meal underneath the snow. It was big, full grown most likely. We get a lot of coyotes in California. There are 3 different types (or subspecies) - the mountain, valley, and desert coyotes.
The ones around Yosemite belong to the mountain variety, which are the largest of the three. Their fur is thicker and longer and their bodies bigger, making it common for them to be mistaken for wolves when seen from afar.
After a few minutes later, I turned and gradually made my way back to the truck.
“Well, that was the icing on the cake, wasn’t it?”
Trey said to me as I climbed into the passenger’s seat of the truck, looking back at the coyote in the meadow as we drove away. It had found something and was carrying it in it’s mouth across the snow.
“Yeah it was”
I said to him, turning in my seat to face the road ahead, smiling.
THX FOR READING