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  • Jenny

Butterfly Travels: A Mother-Son Trip to Yosemite

When my son told me he was bored and looking for an adventure, he didn’t have to ask me twice. We all know how much I love to explore the world. But where would we go? We are on a pretty limited budget after our European excursion last year, and with my crazy workload and his basketball game schedule, it had to be a road trip doable over a weekend.

So, I did a little Googling about where to take a teen in California and voila! I saw Yosemite on the list and thought that would be perfect. We’d never been there before, and as Californians, how can we live here without venturing up to this iconic park at least once in our lifetime?

We were going to go in April because we were itching to get out of the house, but it didn’t take long after doing some research to realize that the road closures and need for snow chains on my tires meant it wasn’t exactly the right time to go.

June was a much better time of year to visit when it was all thawed and defrosted and shuttles were running.

For those who know me well, you know I am not a traditional outdoors girl. Oh, I’ve done some camping here and there and a few enchanted hikes in Sedona, but the woods don’t exactly call out my name. I have a deep appreciation for nature, but I personally find uphill treks and the potential presence of snakes a challenge. As well as poison ivy, mosquitos, getting lost, ticks, bears, mountain lions, and lack of restrooms—in no certain order.

But I still thought it would be a cool adventure to take with my son, who might have a little mountain man inside of him. So, I rescheduled our trip for June, then got to planning all the different sights I thought we should see as first-timers.

I am really awesome at planning, by the way. I think I have more fun planning than actually participating sometimes LOL

This trip could not have been timed any better for me. I had been struggling at work for a very long time, feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated for months. I’d also been battling depression and social anxiety for those same months, isolating myself away from the world trying to figure life out. And while I am far from figuring it out, this break was a much-needed reset button.

I could not have picked a better person to accompany me: my chill, adventurous, sarcastic-ass teen of a son. He spent hours compiling a kickass playlist for the 5-hour ride each way—and I mean, kickass. A few years ago, this kid “hated” music in general, then ended up liking rap. So, to hear the eclectic music compilation that he created for us blew my mind and kept us both singing and rocking through minimal traffic and long, boring roads.

In between rocking out, there was plenty of interesting conversation, bad jokes, and memories made.

We left on a Friday afternoon and decided to only drive up halfway, thinking we would be stuck in tons of weekend traffic, but we actually flew down the highway on our way to land in Bakersfield. Now, it wasn’t exactly the most exciting stop along the way, but it had a Cracker Barrel, which by itself is worth the trip (we kinda all love it there… and I ended up buying this super cute fish flashlight that reminded me of a fish statue my dad had hanging on the wall of our basement).

The hotel was nice enough, and while Champ wanted to watch the basketball game, telling his mother he thought she should go for a walk because we’ll be together all weekend (haha, I can take a hint), I went down to check out the hot tub and relax. Yeah, that wasn’t happening because it seemed broken. It wasn’t until I got up to leave that the bubbles came on out of nowhere.

And so I went back to the room, where we both had a terrible night’s sleep and woke up before the crack of dawn to resume our journey to Yosemite. Once again, an easy drive—two and a half hours felt like only minutes. When we arrived in town, I thought we would have plenty of time to get to the park, so we found a cute little bakery and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast.

Yeah, not the best idea. We ended up being only 15 miles away from the entrance, but it took over an hour to enter because of the traffic.

What made matters worse was the fact that our cell connection was lost, and we no longer had access to the kickass playlist to amuse us. And then he fell asleep, leaving me to sit in silence while the minutes ticked slowly by. (And no, neither one of us had the brilliant mind to think of turning on the radio instead).

When we finally got in—after me panicking if there would be any parking spots left (there were)—we grabbed our backpacks and were ready to explore the wonders of Mariposa Grove. I thought it would be a great place to start; to see the beautiful Sequoia trees.

And that we did. We got right in there to enjoy the traditional faves of the Fallen Monarch, Grizzly Giant, and of course, the California Tunnel Tree. That was pretty cool to walk through, and it was interesting to feel how smooth the inside of it was.

But I have to say, I wasn’t in awe as much as I expected to be.

Don’t get me wrong. The trees were statuesque and very impressive. But I guess I might have been a little disheartened that there wasn’t more magical feeling, but that could be after taking what promised to be the moderate route that was anything but moderate. I felt terrible for my son, who had to keep stopping and slowing because I struggled up the path—even with a walking stick.

At the end of the day, for me, it felt like just like any other path through some trees. I know, not many people will like that comment, and it’s not that I didn’t appreciate the nature around me, but to be honest, it felt more gimmicky and less “wonder”-ful, ya know?

Anyway, I was ready to turn around, but my son wanted to keep on. The problem with that was we were done with the moderate loop, and all that was left was to walk the advanced loop. I told him no, I couldn’t do it—but then I saw that kid’s face drop and knew right then and there I’d need to try. He was already so patient with my non-outdoorsy waddling, so I said let’s try and go to the first stop, with the warning that he’d need to go slow.

I was glad I pushed myself, because it ended up being such an easygoing trail to see the Faithful Couple trees.

Yeah, you heard that right. The trail was easy. For the life of me, I can’t understand why that path was considered the advanced trail—because it was nothing but a slight incline, which was nothing compared to the steeps of hell I climbed on the “easy” and “moderate” paths near the entrance.

Aside from the frustration of my slow-moving butt, we had quite a few laughs along the way. He found it hysterical that we ran into an Ed Sheeran lookalike. Then there was me trying to take a pic of him with some smoke rising in the background, which was a hoot, especially after I expressed concern that the forest was on fire, but he kept telling me, “It’s fine mom. It’s controlled fire. Look.”

He kept shaking his head as I was trying to FaceTime my mother for her birthday, convinced there was service in the middle of nowhere. I also lost my Fitbit, but luckily was able to track it back within the last 10-minute walk, where someone had just found it in the spot I dropped it. Lots of silly things kept us entertained along the way.

Everything in its place and enough of the woods explored, we set out to check into our hotel and grab some lunch before our evening festivities. But not without me first making a wrong turn and driving a half hour in the wrong direction—but we recovered and then found our way back into town just in time to freshen up.

Let’s just say our hotel was not the highlight of our stay.

My son wondered if we were going to be murdered as we drove to the very back part of the almost-vacant lot, passing the algae-covered swimming pool. Luckily, the inside was clean, and we survived, which is all that mattered, but next time, I might pay a little more attention to the reviews.

After grabbing a quick bite and changing our clothes, we were ready for the next portion of our day: a barbecue and log train ride with the Sugar Pine Mountain Railroad. I was so excited for this; I love a good, cheesy, local adventure.

After getting lost (yes, again—did I mention the poor cell service?), we finally made it in time for a steak dinner, which was pretty yum. There were also musicians who played during dinner, and they ended up joining us on the train ride to a campsite, where—you guessed it—we sang campy campfire songs.

I fully expected my teen son to roll his eyes the whole time, but he surprised me by singing and clapping along!

And he was surprised that I knew all the words to the songs they played. Actually, I was surprised myself! It felt good to let loose a little and be playful, and it was so great that he was willing to be goofy and silly with me. We sang, howled, laughed, and just had a really great evening under the stars.

The next day, we had planned to visit a different part of the park—near the Yosemite Visitor Center. I (thought I) had a great idea to not drive in and deal with parking, so I had pre-booked us a ride via a Yart (their bus system). While it was convenient to not have to do the drive, it took forever to get there.

However, I was already feeling different that morning. Maybe because I didn’t drive, I was able to relax more into the moment and appreciate where I was. And so I found myself nestled as comfortably as possible into the bus seat and stared out the window in awe of my surroundings.

The route we took was along the river, and it amazed me how it changed and evolved along the way. Thick to thin, fast to slow, clear to muddied—and it inspired me to take out my journal and write a poem (see my blog on it: I, The River).

It felt good to actually write inspired. I was missing that for quite a while.

I followed along the river to see the mountains and different waterfalls. The path we were taking that day led to the Lower Yosemite Falls, and I could already feel the change in my attitude. Sure enough, as we got off the Yart and started to wander, it felt different. The atmosphere, I mean. I could see the mountains in the distance. There was much more than trees here.

I could see a little creek as we started on the path. I stopped to admire how the water played on the rocks and I encouraged my son to go down and explore the little sandy area on his own while I took some time to breathe it all in.

We resumed our walk, and it led us to the mists of the falls. Cool, refreshing, beautiful. He didn’t love it as much as I did, probably because he got cold from not putting a sweatshirt on, but I took my time. I loved every second being in that cool air and seeing the water rushing down.

This was the magical feeling I was hoping for in Yosemite.

I realized then that as much as I love and appreciate all kinds of nature, I feel most at home and enraptured when there is some kind of water present. Ocean, lakes, creeks, waterfalls. It doesn’t have to always be this extraordinary, but it’s the feel and sound of water that soothes me into the spirit of Mother Earth.

After seeing the waterfall, we stopped for a little bit by some rocks to enjoy a little cheese and cracker picnic. It didn’t last long because some mosquitos came out to play (haven’t missed those suckers!). We soon ended our walking, content with all that we saw, and made our way back to the visitor center for some really bad coffee while waiting for the return Yart to come.

It was then time for us to leave our little weekend adventure and journey home. Refreshed from nature more aligned with my spirit, and the most amazing time with my son, I felt more peaceful than I had been for quite a while. The trip home was smooth, traffic-free, and did not feel like 5 ½ hours at all. We stopped briefly for dinner at a Black Bear diner, but other than that, we sang and chatted our way through a pleasant ride.

I didn’t know what I was expecting when I planned this trip, but it surprised me nonetheless.

I thought I’d fall more in love with the place, but I didn’t. I thought I’d feel more at peace, like the weight of the world would fall off my shoulders just by walking among the trees. I was content with visiting this natural wonder, but I don’t think it’s somewhere I have to go visit again. I would return, but it’s not on my must-revisit list. I also didn’t enjoy the log train ride itself as much as I hoped too, either, but I did surprise myself by loving the campfire silliness.

On the plus side, I didn’t expect to have such a chill time when it was just me and my son. We really get along well, which is weird considering he is a full-fledged teen and I’m his crazy mom. But he is honestly one of my most favorite people in the world. And I’m not just saying that because he is my son; I mean genuinely, he is an incredible human being, and I am so blessed we had that time together.

Memories were made, which was the most important part. And there is nothing is the world more valuable than those moments we shared together.

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