Yosemite National Park was the third stop on our Northern California Roadtrip and the one I was most excited about. What we weren’t aware of prior to our visit (surprising since I usually research these things to death) was that we would be participating in the park’s 125th Birthday celebration. And, despite the other half a million people also attending the birthday party, it was a great time and we felt very privileged to be a part of something so special and historic. Along with live musicians playing traditional Yosemite songs, the party had visits from Yosemite’s Mounted Patrol, a John Muir look-alike who gave a wonderful and touching speech, and proclamations and resolutions honoring the park were presented by elected officials from federal, state and local levels. To round out the event, the Make-A-Wish Program made Gabriel Lavan-Ying, a 10 year old, the celebration’s honorary junior ranger. The true highlight for us though was placing an item in the 125th Yosemite National Park Time Capsule slated to be be opened on October 1, 2140, 125 years from now (not sure we’ll be here for that–but maybe our great great grandchildren can go in our honor). The celebration ended with all party-goers singing Happy Birthday and, of course, a really really big cake.
The downside of being a part of this once in a lifetime event was the fact that it took valuable time away from our already short visit to rest of the park. And, while we knew we would never be able to cover the park’s 1,169 square miles in two days, we hoped to at least see the major highlights plus do a few short hikes without rushing. But by the time we left “the party”, half the day was gone and it began to rain pretty steadily. Not wanting to waste one single minute, we decided it was a perfect time to duck into the historic AAA Four Diamond Ahwahnee Hotel and enjoy a mid-day bowl of chili and glass of vino. By the time we took our last sip and did a brief walk around the beautiful hotel lobby and gift shop, the weather had cleared a bit and we were on our way. And, although we would have preferred no rain, the silver lining to the rain cloud over our day was that it brought the “falls” back to Bridalveil Falls which are usually dried up by late August. The hike up the paved walkway to the beautiful falls was our last stop of the day before heading back to our lodge.
Our second day was quite full as we had to make up for the prior lost half day and in stark contrast to the previous day’s rain, it was beautifully clear, sunny and warm. First was the mandatory stop at Tunnel View lookout. Since the park opened in 1933, Tunnel View has provided people with this amazing and sweeping view of the Yosemite Valley (no hiking necessary) and the perfect spot for a postcard worthy photo. In addition to El Capitan which towers more than 350 stories above Yosemite Valley and is the largest exposed granite monolith in the world, you can see Bridalveil Fall, one of Yosemite’s most beautiful waterfalls, and Half Dome, a granite dome rising more than 4,737 feet above the valley floor. You will also see a parking lot crammed full of coaches that are crammed full of tourists but don’t let that deter you…..the view here can’t be beat and changes almost hourly due to weather conditions and location of the sun.
Our next stop was a hike to Sentinel Dome. The trail itself is a short 1 1/2 mile-one way-hike from Glacier Point Road although I’m pretty sure we hiked an additional mile from our parking spot alongside the road to the actual trailhead. The trail ends with a pretty hefty four story climb to the top (not Mount Kilimanjaro by any stretch) but is well worth the effort as once you reach it, you are rewarded with a spectacular 360 degree view of the entire park. Our last stop of the day was the very crowded Glacier Point. Again, despite the crowds, you shouldn’t miss it. Glacier Point is well-named — where two massive Glaciers from the last great ice age met and merged to carve out Yosemite Valley. From this vantagepoint you get amazing views of the “Mist Trail” — Vernal and Nevada Falls (best enjoyed in spring because of the heavy snow-melt runoff but we enjoyed flowing water due to heavy rains the day prior) and absolutely stunning views of Half-Dome and Yosemite Valley itself, including Yosemite Falls, Cloud’s Rest and the High Sierra. There is also a small cafe and gift shop and plenty of places to just sit and take in all that beauty. We finished our afternoon in the park photographing the reflection of Half Dome in the Merced River from Sentinel Bridge and the very people friendly mule deer grazing in Yosemite Valley. We had planned on also visiting Mariposa Grove but unfortunately it was closed for some sort of restoration project. We would have loved to have seen the park’s giant sequoia trees (some more than 3,000 years old) but weren’t too disappointed since Sequoia National Park was the next stop on our road trip and we would see plenty of the giant trees there.
I can’t finish this blog post without giving a huge shout out to our home away from home for three nights – Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite. This gorgeous property sits on a cozy and secluded expanse of the Sierra National Forest just a few minutes from the south gate park entrance. And you can feel good about staying there as their list of ecofriendly initiatives goes on and on, from water-saving fixtures to biodegradable laundry detergents to sustainable food products and reducing the use of disposable products. Their awards are numerous including: double Silver LEED certification, TripAdvisor® GreenLeaders™ Program, Gold Level and Environmentalist Level in the California Green Lodging Program. You could easily spend all day in the lobby with the smell of a roaring fire in the rock-hewn fireplace and the soaring, open-beam ceilings with classic lodge furnishings but there is so much more to take in. Our first day, I was treated to some pampering in the Ascent Spa where I had the most lush massage using local organic products. In addition to hiking, biking, climbing, and sightseeing in Yosemite National Park, the resort features plenty of on-site seasonal activities like archery, rock wall climbing, swimming, a kids’ camp, sledding, ice skating, and guided hikes. You’ll also find world-class golf, horseback riding, fishing, rafting, skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. Absolutely do not miss the flashlight hike which they do every night and will give you a completely different experience of being in the Sierra forest in complete darkness. We saw amazing constellations, ate edible shrubs and felt bats fluttering directly over our heads!
With all this activity, you’re sure to work up an appetite and Tenaya Lodge has no shortage of dining options. Their partnership with Greener Fields Together demonstrates their dedication to sustainability in the food service supply chain. Offering stylish regional cuisine under the direction of award-winning Executive Chef Frederick Clabaugh CCC, Tenaya’s Embers Restaurant leads the lineup of resort restaurants ranging from casual and family-friendly to upscale and candle-lit. Tenaya Lodge is proud to serve Double R Ranch® Beef which has a commitment built on sustainability, total quality, animal well-being, and responsibility. Fish cuts are fresh, “never frozen,” and are source approved by the Monterey Bay Aquarium sustainable seafood program. If you’re looking for something casual, don’t miss Jackalope’s Bar & Grill which offers pub fare, delicious local beers, and features made-to-order grilled burgers.
Well, in case you haven’t noticed, I LOVED Yosemite and Tenaya Lodge and would go back in a New York minute. My only complaint….not enough time!