Travels in the American Southwest

Doing Yosemite Valley (Part A)

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Photos of Yosemite

Wow. Sunday morning already. At least that was my first thought as my feet hit the RV floor. While not really cold out, there was a definite crispness in the air at 4,000 feet above sea level so out came the long sleeved shirt until the sun warmed things up a bit. Our marine neighbors were up and about, wishing us a good morning and again thanking us for the use of part of our campsite. I told them that MSO and I were simply glad to share part of our extremely large campsite with them. Since introductions weren't made the previous evening, we got that social obligation out of the way. Ben the tall stoic marine and Robert, the shorter, more talkative one. We filled each other in on our plans for the day. MSO and I were simply going to bike around the valley taking in the awesome views. Ben and Robert, however, had a much more rigorous day planned. They were going to hike some six miles, then scale Half Dome (another two miles). This massive chunk of granite soars 4,842 feet above the valley floor. Then they were going to turn around and hike back...All in the same day. I shook my head in amazement. I've heard of people hiking to Half Dome, spending the night and climbing the following day but these guys were going to do it all in one day. Remembering that they were marines, I had no doubt of their success. After loading their packs, Ben tried the old "maitre d' handshake" on me. You know, when you want a good table in a restaurant and you slip him a little folding green. "Ben," I said, "I'd be happy to shake your hand but please, next time you're out with the men having a frosty or two, take that and have a round on us." Ben demurred but I prevailed! We wished them a safe hike as they departed and MSO and I lazily savored another cup of caffeine.

As the morning sun warmed the valley, we decide to get moving. The temptation of "wasting" the day lounging around would become too great had we not decided to get active. Per regulations, we stored our opened food containers in our campsite's "Bear Box". Dozens of vehicles are destroyed annually by Yosemite's bears which smell food left in the cars. Using their claws, the bears simply rip the door off the vehicle to get at the food left inside. Campers are instructed to leave nothing with a scent in their car nor are they to leave coolers, closed containers of food or even empty pizza boxes. Bears will even look inside the locked car and if they see anything that looks like food or food containers, the car is apt to suffer severe damage. And if food is left in a car and the car suffers a bear break-in, the owners wallet will suffer severe damage not only from having to repair the auto but from the tickets and fines imposed upon them for not securing food in the proper bear-proof container situated at every campsite.

MSO and I peddled our bikes around the valley floor, taking in the views that make Yosemite one of the most beautiful parks in the National Park system. Again, we were amazed at the lack of crowds. I'd heard tales of endless traffic jams and choking fumes as hundreds of cars idled waiting for the traffic to move. On this Labor Day weekend, that just wasn't the case. Just driving around in private automobiles, peering through the windshield at the views is now discouraged by Park Management. The use of free shuttle busses is the preferred way to see the valley floor. Bus drivers point out different sites and views as they drive, encouraging passengers to disembark and walk the short distances to see either this or that. It sure beats sitting in a long line of traffic wondering if it's ever going to move. MSO wanted to see the Lower Yosemite Falls. We knew that at this time of the year, there would be no water free-falling down the nearly vertical granite cliffs, but that didn't matter to us. Even without water, the views were spell binding. We'd bicycle from one of nature's attractions to another, do some light hiking, then peddle off to somewhere else. We were in no rush as the day slowly passed. Stopped at a meadow, reading the interpretive signs explaining how the meadow, once a shallow lake, slowly filled with sediments washing down from the mountains. Small purple flowers blanketed one corner of the meadow where we stopped, their delicate scent wafting in the wind. It's this kind of experience you miss out on if you were only to drive your auto around the valley floor.

The sun started to dip in the western sky as we slowly steered our bicycles back to our campsite. No cooking for us tonight. I'd made reservations at the famous Ahwahnee Hotel Dining Room. This was to be our dress up dinner. Men must wear suitcoats and ties to dine there. The women, not to be outdone, dress in equally formal attire. A quick shower and shave and we were off to the shuttle bus stop. Boarded the bus as the driver theatrically sniffed announcing, "Somebody sure doesn't smell like a camper!" Passengers on the bus joined us in laughter. One party on the bus, mom, dad and three young children were very glad to see me. It had obviously been a long day for the kids who were tired and fidgety. The kids were borderline whiny until the youngest looked at my tie. "Look, look. Bugs Bunny" he announced to the rest of the bus. For the next fifteen minutes, the kids identified the Warner Bros. characters on my tie. "Road Runner, Road Runner! Coyote! Ewww, the skunk (Pepe LePew)", they announced to the remaining passengers. A relieved mother thanked me profusely for wearing the tie, as the children's' whines morphed into shouts of glee. "'Twas my pleasure, ma'am", I drawled giving the grateful parents a wink.

At 7:00, we walked through the lobby of the Ahwahnee Hotel, taking a moment to admire the architecture of the old building. It was here that the rich and famous would visit some 75 years ago when the hotel was new. We strolled to the dining room entrance. The maitre d' was occupied, speaking with a man ahead of us. "Sir, when we spoke yesterday, I told you that you'd need reservations. You chose not to make them despite my urging you to do so. You may come back later on this evening to see if we've had any cancellations but as of now, we have had none and cannot seat you." Grumbling, the man departed as the maitre d' shook her head. I approached the podium and received a "Good evening" along with a beatific smile. "Good evening. As opposed to the gentleman that just left, we do have reservations." "Oh, very good, sir. I can seat you immediately." I scanned the dining room. "Would it be possible to have a table by the window." These windows are around thirty feet tall and provided a stunning view. My heart sank as she said, "I'm sorry but we don't have any available." She bestowed another smile upon us and continued, "But if you'd care to have a cocktail in our lounge, I'd be happy to seat you when one becomes available." Now that's what I call service! Minutes later, even before our drinks had been served to us as we lounged in the outdoor section of the bar, we were being summoned. Our table awaited us. Used the afore mentioned "maitre d' handshake" to more fully express our gratitude. "Sir, it's our pleasure." What class.

Sipped our drinks as the surrounding mountains turned blue, royal purple, finally fading to black. Had fun with the waiter as he described the specials. Everything sounded delicious but I finally settled on the duck while MSO chose the chicken. After consuming pounds of roast and steaks throughout our trip, I guess we both just needed a change of pace and neither of us were disappointed with our meal. Topped it off with dessert, an assortment of creme brulee (chocolate, espresso and mocha) for me and an assortment of chocolate concoctions for MSO. I surreptitiously let my belt out a notch. A meal like we'd just enjoyed could get very habit-forming very quickly and the surroundings made it all the better. Sugar pine beams stretched from floor to ceiling providing a base for the sugar pine trestles supporting the roof. Only in the dining room can true wooden beams be seen. In the rest of the hotel, the beams may look like wood but they're actually concrete painted to look like wood. This was done for fire prevention when the hotel was built.

Caught the shuttle back to the campground where we exchanged our good clothes for our more usual camping attire. Started a small campfire when from the rear of our campsite came Robert. The marines had conquered Half Dome taking about twelve hours for the round trip. He said both he and Ben got a good chuckle out of the sign we'd left taped to the food storage box and illuminated with a chemical lightstick. It was just a note welcoming them back and letting any curious rangers know that Ben and Robert were part of our camping party. Robert then announced, "Sir, since you wouldn't take money from us, we got you something else." A six pack of Sierra Nevada ale. I was flabbergasted. These guys completed a sixteen mile hike in some twelve hours, then went to the Yosemite Village Store to buy us a six pack to show their appreciation. Of course we cracked them open as they related their adventure. I was secretly jealous that I didn't join them but fully realized that the only way I'd survive a hike like that would be if I was air-lifted out, hopefully after reaching Half Dome! Finished our beers and bid one another good night. Tomorrow, the men would be heading back to Pendleton while MSO and I would be off to find the Big Trees - Yosemite's Sequoias at Mariposa Grove by Yosemite's South Entrance.

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