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Family Camping at Tuolumne Meadows: The Legend of Spooky Farters


Here’s Holden, the terror of Tuolumne Meadows campground.  You can see that the altitude didn’t slow him down.  At 8600 feet, a lot of reviews warned of kids getting altitude sickness.  We didn’t have any problems with that.  We probably would’ve welcomed anything that can slow this guy down.   Holden drove us a little nuts with his playing and falling in the dirt.  You see, the campsites are mostly covered in powder-like dirt and when it mixes with the tiniest amount of afternoon alpine rain showers (like every afternoon), the dirt becomes sticky.  I think I hauled this guy up to the bathroom for a wipe-down at least a dozen times.  Don’t get me wrong, we loved this campground, but it was challenging with a toddler.  

A couple of weeks ago my family and I camped up at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park.  Although I grew up camping and camped a little during my bachelor years, this was our first ever camping trip as a family. I must give Maria credit for both entertaining my crazy idea to go camping with a toddler and for doing the majority of the pre-trip organizing because I had to work until late the night before we left.  Since this was our first time out, we treated this trip as a practice run. We would be gone only two nights, but we did raise the difficulty level by choosing a high elevation campground in the heart of black bear country, and in the days leading up to our departure, the forecast called for rain and night-time temperatures in the 40s.  So, this trip was going to be little more involved than visiting the local Jellystone Park.  In the end, it actually turned out to be the perfect introduction to camping. The scenery on the north side of Yosemite National Park was stunning, and compared to the famous valley, it felt like we had the place to ourselves.  The people we met we’re mostly serious outdoors people.  Everyone was friendly and helpful.  The less desirable tourist types that one expects to encounter at a popular National Park were nowhere to be seen.  Also, Tuolumne Meadows is a beautiful campground on the banks of the Tuolumne River.  We cooked outdoors, attended a ranger campfire presentation, and the kids did plenty of exploring.  I’ve always dreamed of one day taking my kids camping in a national park, so in many ways, this short trip was a dream come true.  I hope it’s just the beginning of more family adventures.


On the first night, we put the kids to bed early.  They were tired from traveling.  I took my camera and tripod down to the Tuolumne River for a few minutes of sunset photography.  I felt a little bad leaving Maria alone up at the campsite after all she did so much work putting this trip together, but how often do I get out during the golden hour in the High Sierras?  Under pressure, I worked fast and got some nice shots in under fifteen minutes.  There was a time, pre-family, when I would’ve chased these kinds of photos all day long. And,  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it a little, but playing with my kids in a National Park is so much more fulfilling.  If  I did have the time for serious landscape work now,  I think I’d shoot differently.  I’d hunt up more drama or a new perspective.  I enjoy making these photos, and respect the work that goes into quality landscapes, but I feel like these shots don’t go far enough to express my ideas or emotions.  I like to believe my photography has progressed past the standard wall calendar landscapes.


On the morning of day two, we set off on a hike to Gaylor Lake.  The trailhead was at 9000 feet and climbed quickly to a 10,000 foot pass.  It was a challenging climb for Ella, but she made it, and the views from the pass were spectacular.  If  we were to do this hike over again, we would make a loop and have the Yosemite free shuttle bus pick us up on the Tioga Pass Highway.  The hike was gorgeous, but by making a loop you would get more time in the high country above the trees.  


Shortly after starting down the mountain, a thunderstorm rolled in.  Lightning struck the peaks on the far side of the valley.   When the first peal of thunder rolled down the valley,  Holden, who was born in California and hasn’t had much experience with thunderstorms, said, “Spooky farters scary.”  We hurried through the woods and made it back to the car without getting soaked or struck by lightning.  


This is what makes the Tuolumne Meadows campground a winner:  The Tuolumne River.  After a strenuous morning hike, we bummed around the banks of the river the rest of the afternoon.  There are lots of rocks to climb and places for the kids to explore, all within a few hundred yards of the campground.


Here’s Ella adventuring along the banks of  The Tuolumne River.  In the background you can see Tuolumne Meadows Campground.  If you’re lucky, you can score a riverside campsite.  


California’s wildflowers last deep into summer in the high country.  Holden doesn’t notice.  He’s off on a s’mores trip.


Moopy and Bunko, High Sierras, Mid-Summer 2015

We survived our first family camping outing.  Tuolumne Meadows was perfect.  If we were to do this over again, the only things we would’ve changed is we would’ve added another night to our stay, and we would’ve brought swim suits.  National Park campgrounds never have showers and this one is especially dusty.  That wouldn’t be a problem if you bring a swimsuit and take a dip in the river.  The area surrounding Tuolumne Meadows well stocked with amazing sites and trails.  I imagine a family could spend a month up here and not run out of things to do or see.  One word of warning though, it snowed an inch up here the day after we left.  Be prepared.  It can get chilly at night.

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6 Responses

  1. Very nice pictures. They will be appreciated more and more by the family as years go by. The days of faded drug store prints from an Instamatic are gone forever — replaced by equally bad phone pictures that disappear when the phone dies.

    Combining great people pictures with great backgrounds is four times harder than getting just one or the other.

    The only camping I did with my son was at EAA Oshkosh. A different kind of picturesque.

    July 26, 2015 at 4:36 am

    • Thanks. Glad someone appreciates how difficult it is to get pleasing pictures of the family that also convey the beauty of a National Park. Expensive Camera + Cute Kids + Spectular Scenery = Great Photos seems to be the common misunderstanding of the non-photographer. Those three ingredients help a lot, but it’s still takes obsessive practice for me to pull off these pics. These days, when I do get a chance to take out the tripod and do slow photography, it feels like slow motion. That’s why, from now on, I want to make my tripod pics more intense. I feel like I can step it up a notch, or at least I should try. Anyhow, thanks for visiting my sleepy blog. Please come back.

      July 26, 2015 at 10:25 am

  2. Good read and great pics David!

    July 26, 2015 at 6:28 am

    • Thanks Chris. Love to see comments on my blog. I think most people stick to Facebook and rarely check out the wider net these days.

      July 26, 2015 at 10:11 am

  3. Nicholas B.

    Just beautiful shots Dave! And a great story. Serious kudos on managing such beautiful shots while also managing your kids! Although we haven’t tried anything as challenging as camping with ours, I definitely know how tough it can be to photograph well while making sure one’s kids don’t get lost, break something, blow something up etc. 🙂 I especially like the last shot. They’re in their own worlds but you capture a glimpse.

    July 26, 2015 at 10:39 am

    • Thanks. I like that last one best too. It’s very three dimensional, dark grass in foreground, then the kids, and then details receding backwards. That moment lasted for a second, they were both moving in different directions. I was lucky to get the shot.

      July 28, 2015 at 8:23 pm

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