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Road Trip from the Columbia River Gorge to Yosemite

If you ever have the chance to go to Yosemite, take it.

By: Garrett Schmidt + Save to a List

The drive from Oregon. 

The journey started out from The Dalles, Oregon. A small town located on the Columbia River Gorge. If you have ever seen the iconic picture looking down on a horseshoe shaped road then you know the area which I am referring to (pictured below). The Dalles is about 10 minutes away and you should at least visit it once. 

We drove through the eastern part of Oregon through Bend and made our first stop in the Steens Mountain Wilderness. If you are going to make this road trip you need to make this a campsite for at least one of the nights. It was remarkable how alone you really are out there. Please prepare accordingly. It gets very cold starting in the fall season and there is no gas between Bend, Oregon and the Steens Mountain Wilderness. The fact that the paved road turns to dirt will make this very clear. We camped at Mann Lake which is free. Free is always good in my opinion. More than likely you will be the only car out there depending on the season. We went in the fall, so not many people wanted to camp in weather with lower 20's as the temperature.

We arrived very late which is normal for us. Early starts really don't happen often for us, but we are working on that part of our life. The full moon greeted us so we didn't have too much of problem setting up camp. After a night of freezing our butts off we we headed to the Alvord Desert which is very close by (15 miles). It really makes you feel like you're on a different planet. You can camp out on the flats there as well. People do drive on the desert in the middle of the night and if your tent is not well lit you can be hit by a car. That would not be a good start to your trip. 40 miles from Mann Lake you will also run into Fields, Oregon on the way to Yosemite. There you will find The Fields Station which has the only gas in the area and an amazing breakfast. Alexa and I had to share one and we still couldn't finish it. SO MUCH FOOD. 

We got gas and hit the road...

Next stop, Yosemite.

450 miles later we arrived to Crane Flat Campground. I did not plan this trip very well and could not find a campsite with available spots except Crane Flat. My friend Jason tipped me off about this place that was only about 30 minutes from the Yosemite Valley. I snagged the last spot for the camp area we stayed in and it turned out perfect. We got in about 9p.m. once again and didn't have time to buy firewood. A sucky first night because of how cold it was. Fires at camp change the whole morale. We made it through the night. Woke up early, because the cold made us get up and start moving. I made some bacon and coffee and that seemed to change our frosty moods. 

First Day Exploring

Driving into the Valley for the first time really makes you tear up. It doesn't make sense to our eyes to see such beauty. I don't even think words have been written to define such a place. No picture will ever do it justice. I like that fact. A picture should never make you feel like you've been somewhere. It should make you want to explore. At least that's what I hope to do with my photos. We spent the whole day driving around and hiking. Which normally bothers me because I like to park and hike until night time, so I can really get the full effect. Sometimes you just have to take advantage of time you have and see as many things as possible. 

I hiked up to see El Cap up close and touched it. It is one of my life goals to climb it so touching it was enough to tease me for now. I need to really sharpen my skills to do big wall climbing before I hurt myself up there. Most of the day was spent driving to Glacier Point and hiking up to Sentinel Dome. Here is a travel tip: talk to people while you are visiting areas. Thankfully we did because I would have never known about the wonderful sunsets up on Sentinel Dome. I believe it is like a 1.5 mile hike and you get rewarded well than you deserve for such a short hike.

That Night

On the way back to the campsite that night the temperature had begun to drop again and as we were driving through the Valley one last time I got to witness something magical. The Dawn Wall had turned into a glowing face from not the sun, but the moon. The Harvest Moon had lit it up! I got my camera and ran to the meadow below El Cap and started shooting. All the climbers preparing for a night on the wall had formed their own set of constellations. It was really an inspiring moment for me. That is one of those memories that will never fade. 

We made it back to camp and finally had firewood to enjoy the last night in Yosemite. I made some black bean soup and to wash it down we had some great beer. That's the best way to end any trip!

The next morning we did go back to the Valley one last time before we hit the road. We ate breakfast at the Yosemite Lodge just to feel fancy, and we were beat. I didn't feel like cooking. 

This was one of my most memorable trips. If you ever have the chance to go to Yosemite, take it.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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