A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but it’s not worth diddly when you’re trying to convey the grandeur, the majesty, the sheer bigness of a place like Yosemite National Park. Unless you’re Ansel Adams (1902 - 1984), you’d do about as well to leave your camera at home and buy some postcards at one of the visitor centers. But that won’t do it either. Some things just have to be experienced.
I tried to figure out what to expect from Yosemite by looking at websites about it before we left home, but they don’t help much. Most of them concern lodging, which we weren’t interested in. We never made a reservation at all for the trip.
That worked fine most places. There is generally a spot to pitch a tent wherever you go. But when we got to Yosemite on Friday afternoon we found it full. Not almost full. Full. Yosemite is a busy place, especially on summer weekends.
We found a tent site in Oakhurst, California that night, just south of the park, and drove into Yosemite early the next morning, so we could look for a campsite at one of the first come/first served campgrounds in the park. We found one at Bridal Veil Fall Campground and set up our tent, and then tried to figure out what to do in Yosemite.
Since we didn’t really know where we wanted to go in the park, we drove the roads and gawked. As it happens, the prettiest parts of Yosemite are Bridal Veil Fall, Mariposa Grove, where there are a bunch of those huge Sequoia trees, and Yosemite Valley. Someone could have told us that, but they didn’t.
Mariposa Grove is where the famous Tunnel Tree is, and that was one of the main things we wanted to see. They used to allow tourists to drive their cars through the hole in the tree, but they quit that a long time ago, I think, because they were worried about the exhaust damaging the tree. It doesn’t matter now, anyway, because the tree blew over a while back. We walked the two miles to see it anyway. Sure enough, it had fallen over.
The main attraction, though, is Yosemite Valley. You can drive down the bottom of the valley and back out, and see the huge mountains all around. There is a river in the bottom, and an entire town called Yosemite Village, which includes a fire department and even a post office. It’s probably the most scenic town in the world.
You can also go back where our campground was, and take the road to Glacier Point, which is a spot on a mountain overlooking the entire valley. It’s something like 4,000 feet above the valley floor, and the view is really worth the trip. It’s one of those Kodak Moments, but pictures won’t do it justice.
With the fires threatening Yosemite while we were there, we were worried the park would be closed before we could see it all. Luckily, that didn’t happen, and we drove through and out the east side, by way of Tioga Road, which becomes highway 120.
This turned out to be significant. The scenery along Tioga Road is just about as pretty, I think, as Yosemite Valley. But the main attraction on that route is Tioga Pass Resort.
The road exits the park at Tioga Pass, which is at almost 10,000 feet elevation. Right outside the park, set among beautiful, craggy mountains is Tioga Pass Resort, an 80-year-old log cabin hideaway featuring a small gift/outfitting shop and a tiny café. It’s a very special place.
At one end of the shop is a stone fireplace, complete with a rug, a couple of couches, and some comfortably upholstered chairs. The ceiling is low and beamed, and the pictures on the walls are mostly photographs of the splendor outside. It’s one of those skiing/hunting/fishing lodge scenes, right out of an L.L. Bean catalog, that doesn’t exist in real life. It’s perfect.
The middle of the shop has an old, freestanding wood stove, and the café is at the opposite end from the fireplace. There are a few small tables and a half-moon bar, featuring cut-log stools. The food is great, but the view out the windows is priceless. Jennifer, our waitress, is one of those people whose personality would cheer a grizzly bear in springtime.
The resort consists of a small motel and several cabins with full baths and kitchenettes. During the winter, when highway 120 closes several miles away due to snow, you can ski up to the lodge and spend a few days in this isolated, winter-bound paradise. If I had time to go back to either Yosemite Valley or TPR, but not both, I’d stay at TPR.
That’s not to slight Yosemite, though. The valley is a majestic treasure, and Courtland and I will cherish our experience there until long after we manage to get all the pine needles out of our tent. The only thing we didn’t like about the park was that it’s located so far from Texas, and it was time to start the long trip home.
Which is another story in itself. Or at least another column . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who has never been attacked by a bear while sleeping in a cabin. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org