Yosemite

And so, I continue the saga of the seven-day California Road Trip Mr. Penfire and I took with our friend Joan and Dave…and track the chain of events that converted my the three sheets of paper I started out with…to 3 1/2 pounds of books, booklets, brochures, newsletters, maps, and information sheets.

Day Three: We had arrived at the Yosemite Lodge the previous afternoon (late afternoon); please let’s not discuss it. Getting into the Park had been a slow process as the road had lost a lane to spring floods and so been converted to a stop and go affair. For several miles only one lane was open; a flagman stopped us, and we had to wait…quite a while, for logging trucks and a stream of cars to pass by in the opposite direction; we could hear the whine of buzz saws in the near distance, as worked dissected countless fallen trees so they could be cleared away.

But the wait was well worth it, for there is no sight I’ve ever seen that’s as breathtaking as the view of Yosemite Valley as we emerged from the Tunnel on Wawona Road. Once settled in, we tucked away a nondescript dinner at the Lodge dining room and then we trekked across the valley to the meeting place for the Starry Nights Tour led by a Park Ranger.  This turned out to be sadly mis-named, as it was a stationary event  (no touring involved), and a heavy cloud cover had blotted out the stars. This circumstance, however, did not deter our enthusiastic guide, who proceeded to convey the lore of this incredible place. And truth to tell, just seeing the lights of climbers who were hoisting themselves up and down sheer rock faces 8,000+ feet high was, to me, a light show in and of itself. The stars would have been a bonus, of course, but the show we saw was just fine. And so, a happy end to Day Two despite our unexpected detour the day before.

The morning of Day Three we climbed aboard a tour vehicle (picture a flatbed trailer equipped with bench seats and  hauled by a huge tractor), which enabled us to see and learn about far more than we could have managed on our own. My most vivid take-aways: the danger posed by the roaring Merced River, flooded by fast-melting winter snows (the fact that a man who had taken this very tour was dragged underwater and lost when he foolishly ventured onto fallen branches that overhung the torrent; there’s a reason guides tell you to stay back from the water); our guide’s description of a spring cataclysm several years earlier when the weather had warmed so suddenly, sending snow pouring down from the mountains so fast that the valley had to be evacuated. Because of the previous winter’s very deep snows, Yosemite’s famous waterfalls put on a spectacular show for us. Perhaps best of all, at the very last minute before the tour started, an extremely elderly couple climbed aboard…they were celebrating their 90th birthdays and 60th wedding anniversary. They made the four of us, of course, feel quite young. (And hopeful that our adventures together could continue for decades to come!)

We spent the remainder of the day, hiking valley trails, visiting the The Yosemite Museum and the Ansel Adams Gallery. (The clerk I spoke to there was pretty impressed to hear that I had actually met Ansel back in the day…when I was working for Polaroid. But that’s a story for another day.) Surely, the highlight of our day was dinner (we had reserved ahead) in the incredible dining room of the Ahwahnee Hotel (called Majestic Yosemite at the time, but as of now, with a lawsuit settled, it has reclaimed it’s real name): What a spectacular place! The entire structure is a masterpiece by Gilbert Stanley Underwood, the architect who designed the equally iconic lodges at Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon. A massive granite and wood structure, eye-popping in scale, its decoration is a powerful, yet refined, blending of Native American, Art Deco, Middle Eastern, and Arts and Crafts motifs. Impressions of the incredible dining room: Cathedral-like. Native American artwork. Ceilings 34 feet high. Pine Trestles. Granite pillars. Colossal chandeliers, intricate detailing on a very grand scale. And a wall of windows looking out on the splendor that is Yosemite National Park.  (The food and service were excellent too. What a treat to dine in this legendary place.)

So what was the paper score for Yosemite? Just The map of the Yosemite Lodge campus, a two-sided map of the Yosemite Valley Shuttle System, with hours of operation of all the facilities on the flip side (oh, look, two of those), a beautiful National Park Service multi-fold map (those are always souvenirs worth saving). That doesn’t count of course, the tea towels and oven mitts purchased in the Ahwahnee Gift Shop. I did buy a bunch of postcards–and notecards, featuring WPA-era artwork, too. But I have since used them, so they did not contribute officially contribute to the weight of paper I am currently steeling myself to toss in the recycle bin.