This is part of a series of posts chronicling my travels across the western United States over the course of several weeks, living on the road and randomly visiting places along the way. You can start reading about the journey from the beginning.

For years I stared at pictures of Yosemite National Park and drooled at the possibility of exploring and photographing this area, jealous of western US residents within driving distance of this national treasure. (In the midwest, you’re flying everywhere to get to the really good stuff.) Time, procrastination and plane ticket prices always put this off until now when I was a few mere hours drive from the area.

After a long drive up winding mountains, hills and stocking up on supplies in Groveland, I passed the gate into Yosemite where my jaw dropped at the vast landscapes and scenery. I already wanted to get out of my car constantly to photograph something and I had barely even made it into the park. I passed by El Capitan (not the OS, dorks) and other wonderful sights, but there was one major detail I had to take care of first.

Yosemite is so popular that campgrounds need to be booked MONTHS in advance, something that was an issue with the spontaneity of my trip. Fortunately it was a weekday and the crowds of summer had long died down at that, so I was able to score a first-come, first-serve campsite for no more than two nights.

On the drive over I had not given a thought about bears, and the ranger informed me that they were particularly active for food this time of year prior to hibernation. Bears are very determined creatures with a keen nose and will tear a vehicle open like a sardine can to get to something that smells interesting, even mere crumbs. So you can imagine my concern over my travel habits of carelessly tossing food wrappers around a vehicle that also happened to be my sleeping quarters.

With not exactly any quarter-operated vacuums in sight, I did the best I could to cleanse the car and locked anything scented away in the bear-proof container on the campsite. Fortunately I had no issues: in fact, I didn’t even see one bear anywhere the entire time. Regardless, they’re out there and I still recommend visitors of areas with bear activity to be vigilant about keeping the interior of their vehicle clean prior to arrival (so don’t eat in the car).

One of my first major destinations in the area was Mirror Lake, but this wasn’t the best time of year to photograph it as much of the lake was dry. But the hike was fine and there were still remnants of fall colors left behind on the trails.

Despite it being well into November, the road to Glacier Point had not yet been closed off for the season. An elevation of 7200 feet overlooking most of Yosemite; if the cold air and frost doesn’t make you shiver, the view at 3000 feet above your campsite WILL.

Lower Yosemite Falls was particularly dry and I decided to break away from the main path of cell phone shooters and climb over the rocks to the very base of the lower falls. When traversing these environments, you need to take your time to plan every single step carefully and keep awareness of your weight, balance and even how wet your boots might be to prevent falling in the water and ruining your camera equipment. No matter how careful you are, always be aware that it’s a risk.

I made it to the base of the falls and was rewarded with a much better view for it. I spent my time taking long exposures of the falls and basin until I was joined by a few other adventurous souls on the other side of the water.

It would have been completely impossible to see and do everything in Yosemite in a few days, let alone a lifetime. My time there was much too short and I would have stayed longer if I could. For what it’s worth, I felt I got the most out of the time I did have. I plan to return to Yosemite in the upcoming year and already have campsite reservations, so this time I can specifically prepare for this trip and plan my itinerary of where to go accordingly.

Besides, I had already experienced so much up until now on this trip that I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. After several weeks living on the road, it was time for to return home.

Next time: The journey home