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A four-year-old’s thoughts about camping Yosemite

Once in a while it takes a four year old to know how to travel. This past June I took my mom and Bella, the name I call my grandmother, to Yosemite National Park in central California. Because I am “All Boy,” I convinced them to camp out for five days. Bella did pretty well; my mom did better; and I was superb. If you and your family follow a few tips, I’m sure your trip to this fantastically beautiful park will turn into a memorable experience.

Whenever traveling the question looms of where to stay. In Yosemite, a number of locations present distinct offerings. The Ahwahnee Hotel in the Valley is pristine and classy, as is the Wawona, located near the Highway 41 southern entrance to the park. The Yosemite Lodge, also located in the Valley, is family oriented with its nearby cafeteria. But hotels are plentiful in cities, and national parks call for camping, at least to my four year old heart. Almost a year before our trip, we did a website search, finding that Yosemite offers camping experiences to fit just about anyone’s style and budget.

Curry Village and Campsite 15 offer canvas tents and cabins but do not offer cooking facilities. Then there are a few campsites where one can pitch one’s own tent. This, I fear, might prove just a bit too rugged for my retired schoolmarm grandma and French-manicured mom so we compromised by choosing Housekeeping Camp. Here, we had a nearby grocery store and, even better, a centralized Laundromat, clean bathrooms, and hot-water showers. The tent and outside canvas area was plenty large. It had three concrete walls, a concrete floor, a double canvas roof, and a fourth curtained wall – not quite luxury but surely doable for novice campers. It handled the three of us and about half a dozen squirrels who thought if they begged hard enough and long enough we would feed them. We had a campfire ring, perfect for our plopping down next to for star gazing, stories, songs, and s’mores. The view guarantees that any kid will willingly give up video games. Yosemite Falls presided to our left and Half Dome shed its presence to our right. And in front of us The Merced River meandered, providing home to families of young ducklings who swam alongside us each afternoon.

In fact, Housekeeping Camp proved to be quite a conglomerate of City Dwelling and Outdoors Adventure. Every morning a chorus of blue jays, robins, and ravens belted out their tunes under the supervision of a woodpecker or two. And neighboring campers supplied their own brand of music. To the left of our campsite, a mom bemoaned that she took time off work to take her teenage son and his buddies on a “vacation.” Many in the campground neighborhood heard her woes of

“I’m doing all this work while you boys lounge around and play rap music.” On the right side of our tent a dad out-sang this mom and her gang as he stormed into their tent. I guess he had suffered enough of their music. His lyrics rivaled “Ice Ice Baby Too Cold,” and I don’t think he was talking about temperature of the Merced River. Campground harmony was not at its best.

With 266 tents located in Housekeeping Camp it’s a certain that not everyone will enjoy the same hobby or want the same friends. One of our neighboring group liked to throw axes into tree trunks. Never mind that my pre-school buddies and I biked nearby. My mom warned us, “Stay away from the Bad Boys,” but the Bad Boys kept up their target practice and didn’t give a hoot about my mom’s label of them. On our third night, a new friend wanted to make our acquaintance. I was all snuggled up on my lower bunk bed, inside my Cars tent I brought from home and wrapped up in my Angry Bird blanket. In fact, I was sound asleep so only Bella and mom heard/saw the intruder. According to them, something was looking for something: food, garbage, drinks, or possibly people. When the stranger found nothing outside, he began to scratch and claw at the canvas tent opening. Then a shadow crawled through. Mom’s heart raced a thousand miles a minute, convinced a bear thought we had (or were) a treat for him. Bella quickly reached for her cellphone, as if to call Yogi’s mom and tell her that her son was out past curfew. Mom then grabbed hold of a light, shining it down a few feet from her. Gazing back at her was a rather plump raccoon. Not approving of her interference, he sauntered off, probably to trash cans or more friendly neighbors. Mom couldn’t sleep the rest of the night, and she had a habit of reminding me that she loved me an awful lot to continue camping. All in all, I recommend Housekeeping Camp, but perhaps with a few reservations.

Now, what’s a kid to do in Yosemite that will keep a grandma and mom happy too? Take a shuttle bus and stop off at the Visitors’ Center or Nature Center at Happy Isles. At the Visitors’ Center, you can visit a replica of an Indian Village and see an award winning film of the wonders of the park. At the Nature Center, you can visit the wildlife museum and enter pretend dark caves. Better yet, talk the grown-up in your party to buying you the $3.50 kids’ activity book in the bookstore at either location. It contains puzzles, mazes, drawings, and great facts. When you complete a few of its activities, you bring it back to show it to a park ranger. He is so impressed with your achievement that he swears you in as either a Junior Ranger if you’re 7 to 13 years old or as a Little Cub if you’re 3 to 6 years old. I now have the Cub membership stamp in my booklet, orientation pins to adorn my tee-shirts, a compass that nestles in my pocket, and binoculars that drape around my neck. I look like I belong. And
I’m told I have the habit of reminding everyone to pick up litter.

A multitude of activities happen daily for the wee-aged group. The weekly park newspaper lists the times and places for Wee Wild Ones role-playing and Story Time. Most programs last about 45 minutes, just enough time to entertain and teach and give you a needed break from grown-ups. Under the guidance of a ranger, my newfound buddies and I pounced as if we were mountain lions in the confines of Camp Curry Amphitheatre. We also learned the diet of bears. No wonder they want fried bacon. Wouldn’t you after crunching all day on tree bark and insects? And if the adults in your group can stay up late enough at night, rangers will teach you all about constellations. Definitely, there’s plenty to do in Yosemite.

Honestly, though, the best thing about Yosemite is being with family. Mom doesn’t talk about work, and Bella doesn’t talk about Church. We laugh together. We bike together (well, almost. Bella’s balance needs improving.) We devour junk food together. We build (and build again when they go out) campfires. We joke about smoke following beauty – no wonder it likes my mom! We hike Bridalveil Falls to see its rainbow-like prism spread its colorful canopy. We hike Yosemite Falls, spotting a year old bear cub in the adjacent woods. We bike and hike to Mirror Lake, gazing down to see our reflections smile upward to us. And we keep our pledge not to complain as we climb the trail to Vernal Fall’s footbridge. Once there, a fellow hiker supplies our photo shoot on the boulders and we stay our safe distance from the pools. You’ll look at the pictures later, realizing that you earned this prized family photo. On our final day we stopped off at Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. We started to hike the .08 mile trail to Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree. Next time I promise to finish the walk. It just so happened to be going on lunchtime and a Happy Meal at a MacDonald’s about half an hour down the road won out over the hike. I also want to visit Glacier Point next time to view down at the Valley. I hear that people look like ants from up there. And, of course, a 39 mile scenic drive through forests, meadows, lakes, and granite domes will be ours as we visit Tuolumne Meadows. Wow, Yosemite holds much to do.

So, would I recommend Yosemite to other four year olds? You gotta accept that there will be crowds. You gotta realize that you’re probably going to learn some new lingo, rather it be rap, Chinese, French, or Indian. Definitely, Yosemite is an international setting. You have to accept that you won’t be allowed to do certain things, such as rafting and horseback riding, until you’re a few years older and a few pounds bigger. You have to be willing to trade in the family car for a shuttle bus, bike, or one’s good ol’ feet. But, I promise that you’ll have a ball, your mom will look more beautiful than ever, and even your grandma might look like she’s in her thirties. Now, that’s a win-win for everyone!

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