REVISITED: Three days spent in a paradise, Yosemite NP (Part 1)

It has been nearly two years since my trip to the States, and I still have so many unfinished posts sitting here as drafts. Bit by bit, I’m planning on whittling them down and actually releasing my stories and pictures into the web universe. Here is post number one…..

Before leaving Australia for my trip to the States, I thought I had a good idea what I was in for. I’d read the guide books, seen other people’s photos and heard their wondrous tales – even searched travel sights to absorb all the tips everyone had left; “see this” and “do that” – even read those tales of disaster that we are all grateful others had (not us!); you know, “don’t stay here unless you like bed bugs” and the like.
I was fairly sure that Yosemite was going to make the trip highlights, given that anyone who had visited still raved about their adventures. But still, nothing could prepare me for visiting Yosemite NP – almost five hours from the bustle of San Francisco………

Outside the urban sprawl of the city, scenery quickly becomes sparse, dry, and arid. Passing by the window at great speed were a mirriad of car yards, factories and cheap housing, a bunch of windmills dotted the hills, but all of this was broken up by industrial-scale farming enterprises, that rely on deep water reservoirs (no wonder people have problems with salinity and drought!!). Almonds heaped up taller than a trucks, plums, pistachios, and plenty of sad, hot cows. Plenty of sprinklers keeping the greens growing, irrigation for the fruit trees.
You drive and drive some more – the roads gradually break down from 4-lane freeways to a single lane wisp that weaves up the foothills and scrubby brush.

Then suddenly the green returns – in the form of montane forest (oaks, pines, firs – all able to deal with the harsh cold and extreme summer temperatures). Suddenly after so much time spent driving up from the coast, you find yourself descending into a different world – and for us, this meant stepping back a century to stay where many wealthy Californians had enjoyed summer refuge – Wawona Hotel (built in 1876). Think stately white buildings set relaxed in amongst the trees, wide verandahs, creaky wooden floors, sweeping manicured lawns and plenty of chairs to relax in. In the main building which serves as the check-in desk, historic gallery and dining room there was even a “reception area” complete with pre-dinner drinks and a pianist entertaining 6 nights a week!
It was not without a few quirks – luckily the place wasn’t full, so noise wasn’t a huge issue (as it would be in peak time) – the showers were two stories below our room, no telephones, TV’s, lift. But they did have wi-fi!!!

Then, there’s just a short drive down the mountain a little further to a view that knocked me away every day we were there. Just as you start to lose hope of getting to the valley, you enter a tunnel (nearly one kilometre long!) and pop out to this:

There’s the money shot…looking across the length of the valley.
El Capitan in the afternoon sun
“The Three Brothers”
Once you descend right down into the valley, it really does become apparent the grandeur of the whole park – Yosemite NP  encompasses almost 1200 square miles of land in the heart of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range. Every angle holds a surprise – the sheer rise of El Capitan (and you can take some time out to watch all those brave folk who climb it every year), the granite rocky outcrops jutting upwards, and massive powers of water that fall off the edge down to the valley floor.
Not surprisingly, it’s hard to do everything. There are ~800miles of walking trails and cycle paths, so enough to keep even the fittest beaver busy. We were lucky enough not to have any close encounters with grizzly bears – just a few friendly marmots, hungry birds and happy deer.
Perhaps the best way to get some perspective – as well as earn your dinner – is to hire a bike and ride around on the 12 miles of dedicated bike paths. You actually get around quicker on two wheels, compared to four (especially when late afternoon storms come over, as we discovered!), and certainly don’t need to have a lycra wearing-latte sipping fetish (and therefore massive leg power) to cope with the ride as it’s flat for the main part!
Even some downhill!
The beautifully quiet Merced River
Here we are about to push off, in a hurry to avoid getting wet in the downpour!
Half Dome from the valley floor
Merced River and looking over the meadows (Half Dome has disappeared in cloud)
Chapel, the site of the original Yosemite Village site.

On your journey around the valley, you weave along beside the Merced River (quietly flowing in September, quite a different story in early spring!) and along past the meadows that have been rehabilitated back into their “natural state” over the past 30 years. The only sign of human interference is several apple trees (the old orchid) and a lovely Chapel that stands to attention near the original site of Yosemite Village. It continues to hold services each weekend, even though the rest of the village is now housed further away from the river.

The lovely wooden cabins that serve as accommodation for the staff and their families….
In a bid to escape the afternoon thunderstorm, we high-tailed on our bikes along to The Ahwahnee Hotel – a luxurious place that serves as accommodation for the rich and famous (or those who like to splurge $600 each per night!!).
We did our best to fit in (sodden shorts and t-shirts, with helmet hair is a bit a give-away) without having to cough up the dough for a room – instead we ordered an over priced coffee and sat on their verandah to watch the storm.
The amazingly elegant hotel has a history to match it’s affluence – originally built in the 1920’s to attract the “affluent and influential traveller” to the park, in a bid to improve revenue and support to keep the park protected. All the building materials were hauled in over the mountains, and it provided employment for many folk during the depression.
Ahwahnee Hotel even served as a “convalescence hospital” for many soldiers in the 1940’s. And it’s rich history, amazing architecture and historical significance made the trip to Ahwahnee Hotel worth every minute!
Furnishings from the original fitting in 1920’s
Earlier in my first day of adventures around Yosemite NP, we headed in the opposite direction to the Valley – up hill higher from Wawona towards the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.
Source: NPS website
This gives you a bit of an idea of the climb up to the Upper Grove, and as was fairly common in the national parks once you got past the first 400m a lot of people were already turning around and walking back to their cars!! Seriously people – this is history before you’re eyes!!! This grove dates somewhere between 1600-2000yrs old……what were you doing back then? Haha, if only trees could speak, the stories they would tell…
Initially the walk wove through some giant trees, then as you climbed higher the terrain changed to more dry and exposed – the trees clearly chose the wettest and protected areas to grow in. The trees were simply spectacular, hard to get any sense of perspective as their height is barely captured in the camera shot!

“The Faithful Couple” trees and the easy way to the top (tour bus/truck)

But right as your legs are letting you know about the gradient, the path flattens out and you spring up into the “upper grove” – luscious and green again, alive even.
This is the site of the Museum that houses the national park’s displays on flora and fauna in the park, the history of logging and the efforts of “guardian” Galen Clark to protect and conserve in the park.

Museum, similar to the original house Clark lived in – all year around!

Don’t worry, there’s installment number two very shortly…all about a view from the top, and of course more walking!! Stay tuned….

2 thoughts on “REVISITED: Three days spent in a paradise, Yosemite NP (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: REVISITED: Walking Yosemite (part 2) | SoulFOOD Odyssey

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