If you’ve ever visited Texas in the middle of summer, you probably wish you hadn’t. Most of us spend the months of June through September indoors, begrudgingly sipping iced coffee and wishing we were somewhere - anywhere cooler. I am no exception. When temperatures finally reached triple digits, I cashed in on my vacation days, packed my things and my lady, and together we went west to California.

The road to California from Texas is long and, despite the efforts of even the most skilled navigator, not very scenic. Interstate 40 cuts straight through the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona (and eventually California) which boast higher midday temperatures than what we had left behind. We spent the daytime driving, an attempt to avoid the record highs (four hikers had just recently died in Phoenix when temperatures reached 112º), and the mornings and evenings exploring outside. But we were just passing through.

We passed into Pacific Standard Time as the sun began to go down, offering a welcomed relief after auto-piloting our way through the Nevada desert all day. We parked the car on the side of the road just inside of the California state border and got out to enjoy the cool air for a minute. Everything was green for a change and the Sierras still had snow on their peaks. We made our way north on 395 as the last bit of light disappeared from the sky and made camp outside of Mammoth Lakes.

The Sierras were welcoming. Everyone in Mammoth smiled at us for no real reason at all, besides perhaps just living in Mammoth (which I 100% believe to be the case). We spent the day at McCloud Lake, away from the crowds and the night at Mono Lake.

The following morning we drove into Yosemite, passing through the tiny town of Lee Vining on the way. The sun hadn’t quite come up so views were limited to the little bit of pavement illuminated by headlights. That is, until we parked in the valley and saw our first of three spectacular Yosemite sunrises from the line outside Camp 4 (where we had been waiting to claim a spot).

Site 30A was our home for the a few nights as we explored the park. Sight seeing boxes were checked, and even more equally beautiful yet unexpected sights were found along the way. The park has a sort of magic—something I’ve heard park rangers talk about at length. It drew us in, and as departure day arrived, it had begun to feel like home. What luck.