Saturday, June 26, 2010

Summer Vacation: Yosemite


Stop number two in the Nawrot summer vacation was Yosemite National Park. Our goals over our week-long stay were relaxation, familial bonding, and lots of hiking.

Yosemite covers nearly 1,200 square miles of territory, boasts elevations ranging from 2,000 ft. to 13,000 ft., and provides over 800 miles of hiking trails. The park is laid out with the Yosemite Valley close to the center, Wawona/Mariposa at the south end, Tuolumne Meadows in the northeast, and Hetch Hetchy in the northwest. Each location has Visitor Centers, picnic facilities, bathrooms, and hiking trails.
Each area of the park is 15 miles apart at a minimum. In some cases, you could be driving all day to get from one side of the park to another. Most roads are winding and run along the side of mountains, so care must be taken, and will extend your driving time beyond the norm. When we visited, a long-term construction project was under way on the road between Wawona and Yosemite Valley, causing a 30 to 60 minute delay in your travels. I don’t know how long this project is going to take, but I would guess years. Bring entertainment for the car ride!

Yosemite Valley: The valley is definitely where most tourists flock. You are surrounded by enormous granite rock formations, and in the early summer while the snow is melting, dozens of exploding waterfalls. The downside to Yosemite Valley is that it is a swarming, glutted mass of humanity jammed into a tiny little area. If you are not staying in the valley, parking is just about impossible (hint: tip the valet at the Ahwahnee Lodge and save yourself the coronary) and there are heavy crowds everywhere. Traffic is often at a standstill. There are free shuttles that take you around where you need to go, and are highly recommended. There are several eating establishments here, several options for accommodations (the Ahwahnee is very nice but extremely expensive, others appear run-down and could book up a year in advance), horseback riding (we did a two hour ride), and more hiking options that any one person could cover. We were able to get some signal for phone service here. While the valley is very beautiful, however, a couple of days was enough for us. We like a bit of peace and quiet.

Wawona/Mariposa/Glacier Point: At the hub of this area is the Wawona Hotel, which has been serving guests since the 1870’s. With big wooden porches, an expansive lawn with lounge chairs, and a small 9 hole walking golf course, you can almost feel yourself transported back in time (I told my husband that he could take the kids hiking and I’d stay there and read all day!). From this location, you can pick up a number of hiking trails, or the free shuttle to Mariposa, where you can see some of the world’s largest and oldest sequoia trees on a wonderful hike. Wawona also has a living history museum, where you can take a ride in an old horse-drawn coach, or watch a blacksmith do his thing. There is also a small general store here that is convenient to pick up groceries, a bottle of wine, or the bar of soap you forgot to pack.

In Wawona, there are a number of cabins for rent, in an area on the side of the mountain called The Redwoods. This is where we chose to stay. If we stay anywhere for more than a couple of days, we prefer to have our privacy, a washer and dryer, and to make our own meals. It saves a huge amount of money, and offers a comfortable home base where we can chill out at the end of the day. Our cabin was extremely peaceful, with the exception of our obnoxiously loud children. From The Redwoods, there were several great hiking trails within walking distance. There was, however, NO PHONE SERVICE and very little Internet connectivity. I know this was all good for me, but I didn’t like it one bit!
Glacier Point is a nice drive from Wawona, and takes you up to over 7,000 feet, overlooking the valley (a very sheer, stomach-turning drop off, thank you very much) and a great view of Half Dome, an icon for Yosemite. (Hint: Bathrooms here are your worst nightmare. Go somewhere else or pay the price. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

Tuolumne Meadows: The road to this locale, Tioga Road, had just opened when we arrived in early June. The road climbs to almost 9,000 feet and still had a significant amount of snow – in some places there were several feet of it. This fact had me just a wee bit freaked out, and was THIS close to begging my husband not to go. I could imagine going off the road and not being found for weeks. But we did and we were glad. There were some amazing overlooks along the way, as well as stops along lakes and meadows. (The weather was pretty chilly, even in June, so bring layers.) Tuolumne Meadows itself gives you a beautiful view of the Sierra Nevada range, several granite domes, and flower-filled sub alpine meadows. Hiking was limited when we went, because of the melting snow and significant flooding of trails.

Hetch Hetchy: This was the one area we did not visit on our trip, primarily because it was so darned far from us. The area is located along the Tuolumne River and contains a reservoir created by the O’Shaughnessy Dam. The dam was built to provide drinking water and hydroelectric power for San Francisco.

WARNING: On our way out of the south entrance of the park on Saturday morning (about 10am) on our way to San Francisco, we were horrified to see at least 200 cars waiting in line to get into the park. There were only two toll attendants manning the gate, so these poor folks were going to be waiting a long time. Bear this in mind when you are determining when to arrive. We arrived on a Saturday evening and had no wait whatsoever. If you decide to stay outside the park and drive in each morning, plan accordingly!

Our goals? We slept in, we consumed some wine, I read “Columbine”, and we estimate that we hiked at least 40 miles of trail ranging from moderate to very strenuous. The kids preferred to hike together within screaming range of my husband and I, chattering away like little squirrels. I even spotted them holding hands down the steeper sections. We watched “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Baby Boom” together. We listened to Classic Rewind on our satellite radio on our road trips, to the point where the kids can quickly identify the Greg Kinh Band and Loverboy in five notes or less. Mission accomplished?

For more information about Yosemite, check out UpTake's website.


19 comments:

Nymeth said...

I swear, we have the exact same taste in vacations. This sounds like an absolute dream to me! No wonder you had such a great time :)

Julie P. said...

What a beautiful place. I'm so glad you had such a terrific vacation. I just read a book where the characters spend the night in Yosemite!

caite said...

this vacation just get better and better.

Love your bathroom warning. The Niece was once going to ride a book about the best..an worse...toilet facilities in her travels. I think I could offer a couple that might vie for the worst.

Amy said...

That sounds like a really great time! I was there a few years ago and loved it, what a gorgeous place. A distant cousin of mine is actually a photographer there, so it was nice being shown around by him and his dad. (I was staying with them near there where his parents, my distant cousins, own a bookstore. Heaven!)

bermudaonion said...

The pictures you posted are just gorgeous! Yosemite sounds like a fabulous place to vacation. I'd like to see pictures of your "cabin" too.

JoAnn said...

We'll get to Yosemite one of these days...
Love the photos!

Beth F said...

Stunning photos and THE perfect vacation and so much great information in this post. Wow.

Kimberly said...

Great photos, Sandy! What a fantastic spot for a family vacation...to view the enormous landscape together is a bonding experience by itself. Great discription of the various areas. It's funny to see snow and ice in one shot and warm conditions and shorts in another. :)

heidenkind said...

Is that snow??? D:

Melissa M said...

This sounds like an amazing vacation! Love the pics. :)

ds said...

I think you can start a second blogging career as a travel writer Sandy; this is wonderful. Gorgeous photos, a wealth of information, and the obvious pleasure you took in the trip. Thanks!

Susan said...

Sandy, what a great synopsis of your trip to Yosemite! I was there in 2004, but unfortunately it was April and most of the passes were still closed, but the crowds were light. My friend Ginny and I stayed in the rooms across from the Ahwanee Lodge and they were rustic, but very comfortable. We had a waterfall right outside our back door!

Ginny and her husband live just down the mountain from South Lake Tahoe in Nevada, so they go to Yosemite all the time. Their favorite spot is Tuolume Meadows.

After my hubby retires at the end of next year, my goal is to return with him (he's never been) when we can visit ALL the best places.

Your pictures are awesome!

Melody said...

Wow, very beautiful scenery! I'd love to go there if given a chance!

Great post & great pics!

diaryofaneccentric said...

Another place my family hopes to visit at some point. Thanks for sharing the beautiful photos!

Zibilee said...

Oh my! What beautiful pictures! I also would love to visit Yosemite some day with my family. Thanks for sharing all this awesome info with us. It's fascinating to get to know a little more about this famous place!

The Bumbles said...

We camped in the Valley - I think it was late May mid-week when we were there? It was before school got out so it was not crowded at all, but the waterfalls were just gushing so it was beautiful. We've had friends backpack in to the Meadows - old school style. Their pictures of the flowers were incredible. I'm so glad you got to explore and see so many sides to this incredible park.

Serena said...

One of these days I will get out to Yosemite! It is on my list. Damn those roots are huge!

Kathleen said...

Sounds like you had a wonderful family vacation!

Darlene said...

This vacation sounds like a dream one to me. It sounds like such a fantastic time. I know having no internet connection drove you nuts but it sounds like it was a great time to bond with your family. Thanks for sharing the pics and all the info as well.