Saturday, January 22, 2022

Majestic Yosemite National Park

Trip date: May 2021

Day 6. Kings Canyon to Yosemite- 203 miles

It was a tough drive from Kings Canyon to Yosemite. The massive altitude change had made me a bit dizzy, and the windy road up and down the canyon had made me a bit car sick. It was worth it, for sure, but dealing with that for 5 hours while driving across very barren and boring central California wasn't the highlight of my trip! However I was still ridiculously excited for my first visit to Yosemite!

I took CA 180 back out to Fresno and then CA 41 into the park's south entrance, stopping before to gas up as there are no gas stations in the Yosemite Valley. And with my National Park pass they just handed me a map and waved me through at the station.

I had been given excellent advice and information from various friends of friends who are regulars at this 1,200 square mile national park. I'd read books, blogs, you name it. But nothing can prepare you for the absolute spectacular Tunnel View. It was amazing to say the least.

El Capitan dominates the view, its sheer cliff a seemingly unconquerable feat. On the other side the imposing granite Half Dome looms while Bridalveil Falls show off its 150-drop of gushing spring water. The sight is jaw dropping and photos, even Ansel Adams', don't do it justice.

I was super excited to get to the Ahwahnee Lodge where I'd be staying for the next two nights, but the incredible views on the drive in had me stopping to take in the sight of Yosemite Falls from the lush green meadow by Swinging Bridge. 

It's very easy to pull over on the road, there are wide shoulders where you can park and everyone is driving pretty slow because of the amazing scenery. 

At the Ahwahnee the valet explained that because of Covid they were not able to park my car but they would unload it and have everything taken up to my room. As in Sequoia every single thing had to be removed from my car and trunk because of extreme bear activity in the area. 

I parked the car and walked down the red carpeted entrance to the historic hotel which first opened in 1927. I have wanted to stay at this hotel for as long as I can remember. Well since I watched The Shining for the first time. The Ahwahnee lobby was one of the inspirations for Kubrick's Overlook Hotel in the movie. I mean these elevators are iconic!!

But the entire hotel is grand and steeped in history. Great halls, fireplaces that dwarf an average person, walls covered in photos of past eras. It's all the stuff that makes me happy. And I was even happier when I checked into room #339 and saw my view of Yosemite Falls right outside my window! Ahhhhh!!!

I had dinner that night in the massive timbered dining room. The tables were draped in white linens and there was a piano player. It was lovely, except for the food which had to be delivered in take out containers because of Covid protocol at the time. The food was good even if the plating wasn't.

After dinner I enjoyed a nightcap outside under about one billion stars. With hardly any light pollution the sky was the most beautiful sight. The entire setting was magical. 

The next morning I was back in the dining room for breakfast, on-the-house as my room hadn't been ready when I arrived at check-in the day before. It was a stunning morning, warm and not a cloud in the sky. I packed my backpack and cooler and set out for the drive to Glacier Point; the road had just opened for the season 3 days before my trip!

The Ahwahnee Hotel sits right in the middle of the valley on the 1-way loop road that runs both sides of the Merced River. On the way in there is Tunnel View and on the way out you can stop at Yosemite Valley View for a lovely scene across the river.

I had planned on doing a hike on the way to Glacier Point, but when I drove past Sentinel Dome trail head the parking lot was full and there were cars parked along both sides of the road for a long way in each direction. So I continued on and made Washburn Point my first stop, which has fantastic views of Nevada & Vernal Falls as well as Half Dome. 

Once at Glacier Point the view is the almost unbelievable. You are at an elevation of 7,214 feet, looking 3,200 feet down to the park's floor! I could just spot the Ahwahnee looking like a tiny dot!

It's such a cool visual perspective being up so high and looking across at these massive granite mountains! If the road is open when you visit, I'd say this is a do-not-miss.

Driving back down, I was able to find a place to park by the trail head and set off for Sentinel Dome. The trail is rated as moderate and is only 2+ miles, out and back. The scamper up to the top of the dome at the end of the hike is really the only elevation gain. But at 8,000+ feet altitude and with the heat, it was tough for me! 

But holy hell was the view worth it!! You've got a 360-view of the entire park including the High Sierras. I enjoyed my lunch seated on top of this huge dome within sight of the Jeffrey Pine (now dead) that Ansel Adams made famous in 1940. It was all pretty spectacular and the grin remained on my face for the rest of the day.

On the drive back down towards Tunnel View I stopped on the side of the road to take in the enormity of recent forest fires. Entire hillsides were just charred trunks, absolutely heartbreaking. I think this section was from the 2018 Ferguson Fire but I'm not positive.

As I drove back past Tunnel View and then along the loop road, passing in front of El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Falls, etc. I told myself "you saw all of this yesterday, no stopping, let's get back to the lodge and get a beer!". Who was I kidding... I stopped at every single spot again! The light changes throughout the park so much that I felt like I was looking at things for the very first time!

Back at the Ahwahnee I grabbed a beer from the bar and went outside to the gorgeous patio to enjoy it. As I was relaxing a helicopter came in really close and I watched them perform a rescue on a climber who was stranded on the cliffs above. It was a pretty awesome thing to witness!

I had a lovely dinner in the restaurant again that evening. It had been such an absolutely wonderful day. I was very disappointed that I had only booked 2 nights and not 3. I just loved this lodge and the park so much. The bartender even made excellent Manhattans. 

The next morning after breakfast, I checked out and had the bellhop collect my luggage from my room and store it (couldn't leave it in the car because of bears!) while I went on one last hike. Crossing the hotel's back lawn I found my way to the Mirror Lake trail. 

It's a beautiful and easy trail, over and along the Tenaya Creek, to the base of Half Dome. Since I was short on time I only went as far as Lower Mirror Lake but it was still really gorgeous. And as I passed Washington Column, a couple of guys pointed out the climbers scaling the face to me. So very cool to get to see some climbers!!

On my drive out I made a quick stop at the Ansel Adams Gallery in the village. And then even though I told myself I didn't need to stop and look up at El Capitan or take in the Yosemite Valley View, you know I had to do both. Just one last look!

All photos from Yosemite National Park are here

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