Aaahhh, Yosemite. Breathtaking. Stunning. Magnificent.When talking to my husband about what I wanted to do for my birthday this year, a trip was the first thing that came to mind. He had been to Yosemite once at a very young age and didn't remember the trip at all. I visited Yosemite for the first time almost ten years ago and hadn't been back. Just look at what we had been missing:

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We stayed at the Crane Flat campground (elevation: 6,200 feet) just inside the park's Big Oak Flat Entrance on Highway 120. The location is great if you're looking to check out the Tioga Road or Hetch Hetchy. It's also away from the crowds in the valley, which suited us just fine.

A few things to note about Yosemite campgrounds: your neighbors are close. Sometimes too close. Also, the park really drives home the message that bears are everywhere and apparently campers freak out about it. As soon as it started to get dark, fear got the best of almost the entire campground. All night long, we heard bear bells ringing, sticks banging on trash cans, cars honking thanks to all too handy keyless entry technology and random shouts of "get outta here, bear!" Every noise in the dark was a bear coming to claim its next victim. I kid you not.

I have a healthy respect for wildlife, don't get me wrong. This, however, was insane. Needless to say, it wasn't exactly a restful vacation.

Despite the craziness, we quickly vowed to get up early to see the sights. We knew crowds would be an issue once mid-morning and afternoon rolled around.

The first day we went to Glacier Point (elevation: 7,214 feet) to marvel at Half Dome:

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Stopped at Tunnel View twice because the view is just that spectacular:

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Hiked to Taft Point (elevation 7,503 feet):

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We also drove into the valley, stopped at Bridalveil falls, walked around for a bit and drove right back to camp. I know that some folks love the feel and energy of staying in the valley, but we've decided that it's just not for us. So, back at camp we started to prepare dinner, popped open a few beers and relaxed. Leaning back in our camping chairs afforded us with this view:

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Not bad, huh?

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The next day, we had the Tioga Road and the Cathedral Lakes hike on the brain. I had done a little research beforehand and knew that there might be a few places to stop before we reached the trailhead.

Like Tenaya Lake (elevation 8,150 feet):

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Right? It really did take my breath away. It was an incredibly peaceful spot that morning. We will definitely include more time at Tenaya Lake in future trips.

We also stopped at Olmsted Point (elevation 8,300 feet), which is a turn out with views of Half Dome from the north:

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Once we got to Tuolumne Meadows and the Cathedral Lakes trailhead (elevation: 8,500 feet), we grabbed our stuff and got on our way. Here's a view of the meadows from the trailhead:

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We had researched the hike and found some good information here. Trust me when I tell you that they are not kidding about the first half mile. It kicked this flatlander's butt. I'm sure others will find it to be no problem. In fact, we saw people running the trail. If you're not used to elevation, though, be ready. We took it pretty slow and, unfortunately, I didn't capture some of the great views you get when you stop to rest. I did get a few shots in once things leveled out a bit and we got closer to the lake:

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That's Cathedral Peak in the picture above and Lower Cathedral Lake (elevation: 9,290 feet) in the pictures below. It's hard to capture the beauty of the massive granite peaks surrounding this high country lake.

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As you can see from the water, the wind had picked up and there were talks of a storm coming in. We stopped to eat, tooled around the lake a bit and decided to head back. We could have taken the quick trip to Upper Cathedral Lake, but we thought better of it. Next time, right?

Here's a very happy shot of me once we completed the hike:

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Even though we got back to the car around 1 p.m., we were pretty tired. We decided to check out the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center and then headed back to camp. We had planned to stay one more night and pack up in the morning, but after a few noisy and sleepless nights at the campground, we decided to pack up and head home.

It took us about 3 1/2 hours to get back to the Sacramento area and it felt good to be home...somewhere around 15 feet above sea level. One thing is certain: we slept very well that night.

Have you been to Yosemite? Any campground/lodging recommendations for our next trip? Any other "can't miss" hikes we should know about?

You can see more of our Yosemite pictures over on Flickr.

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