My family used to camp in Yosemite nearly every year while I was growing up. But I haven't been back since I was 16 and have been dying to go. But we don't own a trailer & tent camping with two little ones is not our idea of relaxing. So when we realized that we could rent a motorhome for a decent price for the week, we decided to go for it.
(If you know my parents, you may be asking yourself at this point why in the world did we rent a motorhome, rather than just borrowing the beohemoth one parked in their driveway?! The short answer is while it was generously offered, Brian had never driven a motorhome before and didn't really want to cut his teeth on something so huge, not to mention the added stress of driving my dad's not-so-cheap-but-oh-so-precious toy 800 miles. Insurance will repair/replace but won't make just like it was! It was much less stressful to rent. We rented a 29' class C that ended up being the perfect amount of space for us. Loved it! (Thank you coastalrvrentals.com!) )
By some miracle we got a camping spot in Yosemite too. You have to get online at 7am the day the sites go on sale and they are gone by 7:04! I missed getting a whole week but was able to get 4 nights. And we actually thought that would be plenty. It's so hard to know how much vacation your kids will be able to handle before it gets ugly!
But THEN as it turns out, we were able to get a couple extra days with the motorhome for free! And we had been trying to figure out how to break up the long drive up there anyway. So we added 2 nights in Mammoth to the itinerary. And it worked out perfectly!!
The whole week, in fact, worked out perfectly! There's always a good degree of anxiety & dread that goes along with vacationing with small kids! Are they going to have fun? Are they going to nap or be tired little grumps for the whole trip? We had plans of coming home early if it just wasn't going well. I guess I need to learn to just relax and expect to have a great time because this trip blew away all my expectations! I never thought we'd be gone for a full week and still be wanting to stay more. We could have stayed a full other week and been just fine!
So all that to say, I LOVED LOVED LOVED our vacation! It was the absolute highlight of my year. And since kidlet #3 kinda put Brian's and my plans for a 10 year anniversary cruise next year on hold, there's a solid chance Crowley Vacation 2012 will look incredibly similar to 2011, with the addition of another small person, of course!
So onto the actual vacation...
Day 1: Drive from LA to Mammoth
Lemme introduce our transportation/humble abode for the week.
We are hooked on motorhomes now! The freedom of not having to pull over to go the bathroom, to make lunch, to nurse a kiddo, of allowing the kids to roam some so they didn't lose it on a 6 hour drive....heaven!! We brought their carseats because it's still safer for them to be strapped in, especially in traffic, but once we got to the middle of nowhere we set them free for a bit.
I have to toot my own horn here for a bit. I was so prepared on the stuff-for-kids-to-do front, it wasn't even funny. I was so worried that they'd be stir crazy in the car and bored at camp, so I had a plethora of things for them to play with. And you know what? They played with just about everything! During the drive, I had several I Spy worksheets that Austin called his "See Things Pages." We kept our eyes out for all sorts of vehicles, different color cars and just about every different sign from here to Mammoth and whenever he saw one, he got a sticker to put on the page. Found the idea on Pinterest, of course! (The first two, I got from meandmarielearning.blogspot.com and the third I created using her idea, but with signs I was pretty sure we'd see.)
Okay, done tooting for now. I've got more later. =D
After freedom, it was naptime...back in the seats for the snoozes!
We had a gorgeous drive! Brian ended up being very comfortable driving the motorhome. (Which I figured he would! He can really drive anything!) And he did a stellar job getting us there in one piece!
Beautiful clouds out front!
Mount Whitney out the side!
Had to get a shot of Crowley Lake, of course!
And I had to throw this picture in. This splatter just fascinated me! I don't know what Brian hit, but it must have been a bird or small child or something!
We got to Mammoth Saturday night at bedtime, so after an amazing job (if I do say so myself) of helping Brian level the motorhome for the first time, we hunkered down for the night. The kids did so good in their new sleeping arrangements! Austin slept on the dinette and happily stayed in his sleeping bag. And McKenna's bed for the week was this cool little tent we borrowed from Auntie Suz. We set it up on the extra little couch. McKenna impressed me with how well she did, really. She'd have a hard time settling down for naps cuz it would get warm but did pretty good at night. I'd lay down with both kids on the back bed until they were out and then we'd move them when we went to bed.
Day 2: Downtown Mammoth
We specifically picked a campground close to downtown so we'd be able to walk to wherever we needed to go. Mammoth also has a free tram system that is wonderful. Austin is still convinced that those are some kind of train, so we got to ride around on the train all day! After a lazy morning (cuz we are seriously the slowest family to get going in the morning!), we went to the main shopping center and walked around a bit. They had this statue that was pretty realistic. The kids didn't quite know what to think.
And got some lunch at a little Kosher deli. It was not the most successful lunch. Good food, but we ended up sitting next to horribly annoying college kids who, based on the conversation we were forced to overhear, thought they were the most sophisticated bunch ever. And then I made Austin taste some of my potato salad, which he promptly threw up. So after a bath in their bathroom, we moved on quickly before we were forced to kill the previously mentioned college students out of frustration.
We then rode the tram around to see the beautiful countryside! Just gorgeous!
Austin's new thing for the trip was to stick his tongue out anytime I asked him to say cheese! But he was really loving the tram rides!
Then that night we introduced the kiddos to their first campfire!
But Austin's favorite pastime for the evening (and for much of the trip) was collecting rocks and putting them in our cup holders.
Day 3: Driving from Mammoth to Yosemite with a stop in Tuolumne Meadows
We were so happy we had chosen to stay in Mammoth and go up and around Yosemite to get in the valley. It was an amazing drive!
We made a short stop in Tuolumne Meadows. We hadn't been in the car for long, but of course the kids appreciated getting to run around in the wide open space!
McKenna had fun smelling the little flowers
I wish we could have spent more time there. It's beautiful!
But we needed to get on the road and the mosquitos were about to bust through our bug repellent. They were vicious!
On the way into Yosemite Valley, we stopped to get a picture of El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls & North Dome.
And, of course, the favorite landmark of the valley, Half Dome
And before we knew it, we arrived at our awesome camping site! (North Pines, #107) I have so many great things to say about our site, but the first thing I noticed was our amazing view of Half Dome!
Seriously, if you took 10 steps to the right or left, you couldn't see it at all, due to the trees. But that was the view stepping out of our motorhome!
After getting settled, we decided to get a feel for the shuttle system and go get some dinner. Austin and McKenna loved the shuttles and Austin happily introduced all of us ("This is Mom, Dad & 'Kenna!") to not only the bus driver but any nearby passengers who would listen.
We rode over to Curry Village and I got my first official "bad deer" picture. It's pretty bad, but it happened to be a whole family, dad, momma and not one but three babies!
(I swear they're all in there somewhere!)
And then we made our way to Degnan's Pizza at Yosemite Lodge for dinner. Don't have any pictures of the yummy pizza but we sure had fun waiting for it!
Day 4: Sightseeing in the valley
Our first full day in the valley we decided to spend exploring via bikes. We packed the kids up in their sweet ride that we borrowed from their cousins.
While driving in the day before, we stopped so quickly at El Capitan & Bridalveil Falls that Brian didn't really get to see much. So we thought we'd meander our way back that way to see it again. It was just a 5 mile ride there, which didn't seem so bad. Unfortunately, we had no idea that the bike trails ended about halfway there. After that, there are hiking trails. In other words - not paved! We figured out really quickly that pulling the bike trailer on a hiking trail wasn't going to work. The kids were loving it though. Every time Brian rode over a tree root, they bounced up in the air and I could hear "weee!" and profuse giggling. But poor Brian was working so hard to pull their extra 50lbs of little bodies plus whatever the trailer weighed! There were some serious swarms of bugs too that made the whole experience fairly miserable. It didn't take long for us to abandon our mission and head back to the camps. The trip wasn't a total bust though. We did get to see more pretty stuff!
The Cathedral Rocks & the front side of Three Brothers from Sentinel Meadow
The little chapel I fondly remember going to services at every year my family went to Yosemite.
And an awesome view on all three parts of Yosemite Falls. The falls were fairly full for the time of the year we were there. Usually you can't see all three parts in August/September.
After our misadventure, we rewarded our faithful little travelers with some fishies!
Somehow all that adventure really didn't end up taking too long and we made it back to camp for lunch and then a little free time before naps. Free time while camping translates to "dig, dig, digging". Our kids seriously could have spent the entire trip digging. By the second day there, both would wake up and ask to "Dig, dig, dig?" Yosemite dirt is really really dirty dirt. Not like gross dirty, but the kinda dirty that just cakes on you and gets up your nose and in your hair. It leaves a permanent film on all your clothes that just does not wash out. (They have the socks to prove it!) I'm fairly sure my children have never been filthier! But they were happily filthy and that's what matters!
In a feeble attempt to keep my children even remotely clean, I brought a tabletop activity for them. I made a picnic table sized roadmap for them to drive their cars & trains on. Once again, pinterest gets some credit, except that the tabletop roadmap I found there cost $40 and wasn't that much fancier than the one I made for $3! It was an absolute hit. Even the kid from the neighboring campsite (who by the way, could possibly be one of the most annoying kids we've ever met!) thought it was fantastic and spent just as much time playing with it as Austin did.
Day 4 also held another first for our kids...S'mores! I wouldn't say either one of them ended up a huge fan. Austin very enthusiastically insisted he was going to eat his but a half hour later he was a sticky mess but had only taken two little bites, so we deemed him done. McKenna liked the graham crackers but that was about it.
Day 5: The Ahwahnee & Swimming
The next day we decided to take a quick bike ride to see the Ahwahnee Hotel. Just shortly after we started our ride though, I got a crazy shock when I almost hit a deer! Well it felt like I almost hit him! I came around a corner and about fell off my bike when something big moved right next to the bike path. Not two feet off the path was a 6 point buck. Now I know that you're not supposed to get close to the deer there, but I really couldn't resist circling back to get upclose pics! Plus the kids were safely packed away in their trailer, so I knew they would be okay if he decided to get cranky.
We took a quick walk through of the Ahwanhee. It was quick because our children insisted on climbing on the furniture with their Yosemite dirt covered shoes!
And we made it quick so we would have plenty of time for swimming! In addition to having an awesome view of Half Dome, our campsite also had a little "private" beach! Someone had just recently dammed in a little wading pool too. It was awesome to know that the kids were safe and our water/digging toys couldn't even float away. If the water hadn't been near freezing it would have been an absolutely enjoyable experience. The view from our little beach surely made up for the cold though!
McKenna didn't really care for the cold water. She would not get in it but happily splashed at the edge, "surprising" herself over and over with splashes of cold water.
Austin, on the other hand, seemed completely oblivious to the cold! He had so so much fun "jumping" off a rock into the water, climbing and splashing around.
The swimming absolutely wiped them out and they took great naps that day. How cute are my sleeping babies?
And that night we attempted s'more s'mores. Moreso for my sake than for the kids. We discovered that there was a lot less anxiety about kiddos running around and falling in the fire when we strapped them into their booster seats. We did that with McKenna the first night, but Austin got the same treatment the second night!
Day 6: Yosemite Falls
Our last full day in the valley, we wanted to go on a hike. But just a little one. We biked over to Happy Isles, hoping to take the short hike to the bridge over Vernal Falls but all those hiking trails were closed for the morning while they were looking for some people who had gone over the falls the previous month. So we turned around and headed to Yosemite Falls. Not knowing how long the hike would take, we packed McKenna up in the backpack. She liked riding on Daddy!
Turns out it was a crazy short hike. But given that Austin has short legs and Daddy was carrying McKenna, it was a fairly perfect length!
The short hike gave us time to stop for a quick snack...fishies of course.
And it left time for more swimming and good naps!
After dinner, rather than torturing our children by forcefeeding them s'mores again, we went to the village and got ice cream!
Well, first we said hi to some bears...
And then it was time for ice cream!
I scream for ice cream!
Day 7: Last Morning in Camp, Bridalveil Falls, and Home Again, Home Again
Friday morning was our last morning in camp. While Daddy packed up, I kept the kiddos busy by exploring down by the water.
First we found a wood pecker. Austin named him Tapper after the Little Einsteins one.
We did some more looking for items on Austin's scavenger hunt.
Found a good log to climb on...
And dipped our tootsie toes in the ridiculously cold water!
Then we bid adieu to our beloved campsite and got on the road. We first stopped at Bridalveil Falls to finally get a good look at it. It's a short hike up a mildly steep hill and the kids of course loved that they got to walk all by theirselves.
And the walk was through a beautiful part of the forest
And of course, we had to finish off our visit to Yosemite with a family pic at the tunnel.
And all that was the 2011 Crowley Family Vacation. Can't wait to go back!!