Saturday, February 09, 2008

Yosemite in winter

We got back from Yosemite a couple days ago, but that cold that I had before we left was still hanging on, so I didn't feel like blogging right away. Even with a cold, it was a fantastic trip. We left around noon on Sunday, making the trip by car. It's supposed to be about a 6 hour drive from LA to Yosemite, but count on it being even longer when it's raining and when you keep making rest stops. It had been dark for hours by the time we got to the park. I was kind of excited about this because I had some idea that we were driving past some spectacular sights while driving to our hotel in Yosemite Valley, but it was so dark we could not see a thing. I knew it would be fun to wake up in the morning and see the mountains for the first time. The one thing I did see while Mike was navigating us through the snow-covered roads, was lots of stars in the sky. We turned a corner and boom! Out my passenger window all of the sudden there were about a million stars. "It's like being at the planetarium!" I said. The temperature was in the low 30s and I really wanted to get to the hotel. We were staying at Yosemite Lodge, which is one of 2 hotels in the Yosemite Valley (inside the park itself). The other one is called the Ahwanee and I guess it must be very luxurious because they charge over $400 a night, even in the off-season. Yosemite Lodge is a little over $100 per night. We had read mixed reviews on Yahoo Travel. Several people had said that since the Lodge is in the park, that the park employees don't have to be nice to be you and the service is iffy at best. We had read about moldy rooms, no towels, reservations that weren't honored. So, we packed as if we were going camping and hoped for the best. When we arrived at the Lodge it looked like a normal hotel and we were treated very nicely. It's really a series of cabin-type buildings, and the main building is located in the center of all of them. You check in at the main hall and then they point you to one of the smaller surrounding buildings where you'll be staying. They make you sign a paper that says you are "bear aware" and won't leave anything in your car, because allegedly bears will break into your car if anything smells good inside, even in winter when the bear is supposed to be hibernating. In spite of the fact that winter is the off-season at Yosemite, there were enough people at the Lodge that we had a hard time finding a parking spot outside of our cabin. Well, and the fact that there were huge snowdrifts in the parking lot kind of narrowed down the available parking spaces as well. But once we got inside, I did not know what anyone could complain about. We had a huge room that was clean and perfectly made up. It even had towels in the bathroom, and a TV, in spite of the fact that the Ahwanee claims to be the only hotel in Yosemite with TV. Each room at the Lodge also has a small patio or balcony with a couple of chairs and a table, so you can cook outside or enjoy the view while sitting outdoors. In our case, the chairs were piled high with snow, so we put bottles of orange juice and cans of beer in the snow and made the chairs serve as refrigerators. We slept soundly that night. In the morning, we saw that I had guessed right. Opening the curtains, we were treated to views of the biggest mountains I could imagine, immediately outside. Yosemite Valley mountains are more like big giant rocks. They don't look like the Rocky Mountains that I am used to. Apparently Yosemite Valley was formed by a glacier, and that has something to do with the way the mountains are so vertical and bare...but you'll have to consult a geologist for a better explanation because I didn't quite remember it. It was sunny and the only snow flakes were the ones falling out of the trees. I got snow flakes in my eyelashes. I put on lots of warm clothes. Ski pants under my blue jeans. Then silk shirt, sweater, a heated electric vest, and finally my coat rated for -10 degrees. And of course my snow boots and hiking socks, and a ski hat with a mask built in. The most important investment we had made before the trip was in two pairs of Yak snow chains for your shoes. The night before, I almost slipped and fell many times in the parking lot. It was so icy and slippery. The Yak Traks made it so you had no idea you were walking on anything slippery. They were by far the most important thing we couldn't have done without on this trip. After installing our Yak Traks we walked from our room to a trail right outside the camp area, leading to a beautiful 3-tiered waterfall. They said it's a 15 minute walk from the cabin to the waterfall, but I would estimate more like a 5 minute walk. Maybe 15 minutes if you were the 92-year-old man with a walker that we saw on the trail. Naturally, the waterfall was beautiful. They said the flow was kind of weak because it was winter, but I didn't notice. The really neat thing was that due to the low temperature, the spray from the waterfall would freeze against the mountain at night. As it warmed up in the morning, the ice would melt and crash to the base of the waterfall, making a booming thundering noise that gave meaining to the word "daybreak". The park staff had cleared a trail in the snow and we hiked it for some time. I think we saw 4 other people on the trail the whole time. I hear it is wall-to-wall people in the summer, so I felt lucky that we had the trail virtually to ourselves. Yosemite Valley has a free bus that runs year round. In the afternoon, we took the bus to Yosemite Village, even though it is maybe just a 15-minute walk from the Lodge. I wanted to see what the bus was like. In the picture above, I'm waiting for the bus and looking up at the spectacularly tall mountains. Yosemite Village has a small deli and grocery store, the Ansel Adams art gallery, and the Yosemite US Post Office, among other things. They also have a cemetery but it was the one thing we missed on our trip and will have to catch the next time. We ate sandwiches at the deli and then walked around the Village and checked it out, then walked back to our cabin. The Lodge was to have an astronomy discussion that night, but due to being sick with a cold, I missed out. But Mike went out and he brought me back a book on the pioneer women of Yosemite which I read cover to cover the next day. I didn't go out in the morning because the cold had taken quite a hold, but Mike went out and hiked for a couple hours and took some gorgeous pictures. In the afternoon we participated in a 2-hour bus tour where the driver took us around Yosemite Valley and we got to see more waterfalls and various sights that we probably would not otherwise have been able to walk to or even drive to without chains. This is a picture of everyone looking up at Bridalveil Falls.

The driver told us that this was the most snow that Yosemite Valley had seen in many years, so I felt very lucky that we got to see it.

We spent a third night at the Lodge and drove home the next day. My car was muddy from snow, and when I went to work on Thursday, the car wash guy literally chased me down.


Ada Croft said...

The pictures are so cool! It is so awesome that you got to go there!

Anonymous said...

You just wait til you can come visit us in Portland, there's lots more to see!



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