Yosemite is an example of a National Park that’s being loved to death. Most visitors to the park cram into the one Valley that gives the park its name. The pollution from all those cars, trucks and buses gets trapped there because the valley is boxed-in for the most part by those scenic 2000 foot tall cliffs. To combat the problem, the Park service has instituted a free hybrid shuttle bus system for visitors to ride while in the Valley and by encouraging visitors to park their cars outside the park and take a bus in. But there’s a third option for people like me who want to visit Yosemite Valley while reducing the pollution of its air–driving an emissions-free electric vehicle, like the Toyota Rav4 EV that I drive.
Electric vehicles have never been more available or more practical than they are now and it’s getting better all the time. Sure, they still don’t have the range that a gasoline or diesel powered car has, but the range they do have makes them capable of handling about 90% of an average person’s driving needs. And the greater availability of charging stations is making longer trips, like to Yosemite, even more doable.
There are three types of charging stations. Level 1 is standard household current at 110 or 120 volts AC. Level 2 is 208 or 240 V AC, the current an electric clothes dryer takes. Then, there’s DCFC (direct current fast charging) or sometimes called DCQC (direct current quick charging) that can be up to 500 volts DC instead of AC current.
Within this last level, there’re also three different types or protocols. First is the Tesla Superchargers that are only available for electric cars from Tesla Motors. Then there is the Combined Charging System (CCS) or DC combo charger. And finally, there is the one called CHAdeMo. Unlike level one and level two this is direct-current and it goes straight into the battery pack instead of through a charger like with alternating current. The key concept is that the higher the wattage (volts times amps), the faster an electric vehicle’s battery can be recharged. The upshot is that Level 1 is the slowest and Level 3 is the fastest.
To find out where these different charging stations are located, you can go online to plugshare.com. Or if you have an EV with the CHAdeMO type quick charge port, then you’ll want to check out the website chademo.com. Yosemite Village has three Level 2 charging stations, including one in the parking lot for the Village Store.
Thanks to a quick charge port added to our car called the JdeMO by a business that calls itself Quick Charge Power, we’re able to use the CHAdeMO type quick charge stations. Our RAV4 didn’t originally come with this quick charge port nor was Toyota offering it as an option. Many of today’s electric vehicles come with a quick charge port already or it can be an option added by the manufacturer.
I have visited Yosemite twice this year in my electric car starting from my home in Sacramento. The first visit was before we added the quick charge port. On my first visit, I followed Highways 16 and 49 to 120 to reach the Valley since MapQuest showed it to be the most direct, shortest distance route to the park. This involved charging at the approximate midpoint of my journey- the Tuttletown Recreation Area of the New Melones Reservoir. A day use area there has a Level 2 electric vehicle charging station. I stopped there for a lunch break and read some newspapers and other material that I had been meaning to read for a long time.
After a two and a half to three-hour break, I was on the road again heading for Yosemite and soon picked up Highway 120. A famous or, depending on your perspective, an infamous section of Highway 120 is called the Old Priest Grade Road. The modern Highway 120 bypasses it, but for those so inclined this steep, narrow, winding strip of asphalt provides a shortcut to the park. I was sure the Rav4 wouldn’t have any trouble climbing it, but, just to be sure, I punched the button that sets the motor into “Sport Mode.” This setting increases the vehicle’s acceleration and top speed, so I would have a little more power for this climb. I climbed it at the posted speed limit with no problem, except that some motorist behind me honked at me because he wanted to go faster.
Sheesh! What did he expect! I responded with a shrug but increased my pace a little bit. When I reached the top of the grade, I pulled over into an adjoining side road to let the dude pass me. I switched “Sport Mode” off and turned back onto the highway continuing on at my own pace.
By the time I reached the northwestern entrance to Yosemite, the Big Oak Flat Entrance, I was really concerned about whether I would make it to the charging stations in the Valley. The range meter on my dash was showing one mile less than the sign at the entrance station was saying it was to Yosemite Valley. Yikes! I continued on, hoping for the best. I gotta tell ya, I was sweating through every curve and every upward incline in the road. Oh my gosh, I’m not going to make it, kept running through my head. When I reached Crane Flat, I knew I wasn’t going to make it, unless my EV was able to regenerate enough electricity on the downhill run into the Valley.
And that’s when it happened. After Crane Flat, the road declined to a steady unrelenting downgrade. The beauty of that was not just that the car wasn’t drawing any electricity out of the battery pack to move, since gravity was doing all the work, but also that the car’s motor was now acting as a generator and recharging the battery. I was getting closer and closer to the Valley while the range meter was actually increasing.
I still didn’t know if I would have enough charge to make it to the charging station, but it was looking better and better for me to at least make it to the Valley floor. I even pulled off at the first overlook of the Valley to take in a magnificent view of El Capitan and Half Dome. Then, I continued with my coasting toward the Valley.
By the time, I finally reached the junction with Highway 140, I was showing 19 miles of potential range and was pretty sure I would make it to the charging station. The slower speeds in the Valley are actually very efficient speeds to run any car on, including electric vehicles. That helped ensure that when I finally did get to the charging station, I had about 11 miles showing on the range meter. Hardly even exciting, right!
And, again, that’s why it’s a great thing that the park provides a free shuttle service while in the Valley. While my Rav4 was plugged in at the charging station, I could use the buses to get around to the different viewpoints and trailheads to enjoy the park. In fact, after pitching my tent at Camp 4 in the Valley, I drove over to the charging station to plug in for the night and then took a bus back over to the camp to spend the night. After breakfast the next morning, I took another bus back to the charging station and had a fully charged EV waiting for me with 131 miles showing on the dash.
On the drive home, since I was going mostly downhill from Yosemite back to Sacramento, I was able to drive well beyond the halfway point and didn’t stop until I reached the town of Jackson and only had to charge for about an hour before continuing home.
My second visit was after we had the ChaDEMO quick charge port installed and it made a big difference in the trip. Instead of taking the most direct route, I instead planned a route that would take me by quick chargers, which meant Highway 99 to 140. That actually made for a faster route, since I was on freeway longer. My one stop this time was in the town of Atwater, near Merced, and the stop was only for about an hour. It gave me time for a Subway sandwich lunch. The quick charger I was plugged into only charged for 30 minutes at a time, so I did have to restart the charging midway through. Then back on the road for 89 miles to the Valley with 32 miles of range left when I got there. Nice cushion.
When I headed back home, I had 134 miles showing on the range indicator when I unplugged from the charging station. As you would expect, I drew down the range as I headed out of the Valley, but then an interesting thing happened. After passing through the Arch Rock entrance station, the road took a fairly steady downhill course toward a couple of crossings of the Merced River and my EV gained range along the way. At one point, I was seeing 135 miles showing on the dashboard, so I had gained more potential range than when I left the Valley in the first place. Pretty cool!
So, if you love Yosemite and want to do your part to keep a haze from hanging over the valley, then think about visiting in an electric vehicle. There have never been so many models to choose from and conveniently located charging stations both in the valley and along the way for you to plug in.