into Yosemite

One of the things I do like about California’s Central Valley is its farm stands.  No sooner than we left I-5 at Manteca the next morning, we ran into a produce stand that had white peaches and Asian pears for Mary, and yellow nectarines and pluots (whoever decided to cross a plum with an apricot, well, I just hope they made lots of money because pluots are nectar of the gods) for me. 

With our cooler fully stocked, we headed east into the gold country and the Sierra Nevada. 

A view of the gold country, aka the foothills of the Sierra Nevada

 I used to love the gold country when I lived in the Bay Area.  It was a wonderful place to explore in the spring or the fall, and one of these years I’m going to visit it again in the off season.  But that day we were eager to get to Yosemite.  Mary had never been there, and I hadn’t been there in ten years (the last time I was there was on September 11, 2001, but that’s another story for another time).  So we did not linger.

I had also forgotten about the Priest Grade on the Big Oak Flat Road to Yosemite, possibly because I’d never been behind the wheel while traversing it before.  I’ve been on steeper, more winding roads, but not many. 

So, we finally arrived in Yosemite, or at least at the entrance station.  Only to discover that there was a controlled burn going on in the park, and the smoke was obscuring some of the views.  We stopped where you’re supposed to be able to see Half Dome for the first time, and this is what we saw:

That is El Capitan on the left, but Half Dome, which should be in the center, was obscured by smoke.

 So we drove on into the Valley and found ourselves a picnic spot of sorts for lunch (including some of that delicious fruit).  It wasn’t easy.  This was our first run-in with the extraordinary amount of traffic in the valley.  Yes, it was a weekend in August, but I’ve spent weekends in August in Yellowstone, and it was nothing like this.  I will have more to say on the kind and number of people who visit Yosemite later.

This lovely little orchid pink flower literally carpeted the west end of the valley — it looks like baby’s breath we never did identify it definitively

After lunch we went to check in at our lodgings, a tent cabin at what I persist in thinking of as Camp Curry, but the official name is Curry Village.  I wish I could find better things to say about Curry Village, or, in fact about anything run by the concessioners at Yosemite, but I can’t. 

I guess Yellowstone and Mt. Rainier have spoiled me.  Actually, any other national park I’ve ever been to (with the possible exception of Great Smoky Mountains National Park) has spoiled me.  At Old Faithful, you can drive right up to your very nice, very clean cabin with meticulously maintained restrooms and showers a few steps away for about $70 a night.  In Yosemite Valley, you are lucky if you find a parking space in less than half an hour.  It is at least 500 feet from your filthy tent cabin, which is crammed in less than 5 feet from the cabins around it, and the restrooms and showers, far more than a few steps away, are so badly maintained that you feel dirtier coming out than you did going in.  All of this is $115 a night.

However, that’s what the traffic will bear, and it, like the cabin at Old Faithful, was the most inexpensive lodging in the valley (a regular motel room will run you well over $250 a night).  I had booked it almost a year ahead of time because if I hadn’t we’d have been out of luck altogether, so there was no hope of upgrading.  So we gritted our teeth and managed for three nights.

The views are spectacular, though.  These were taken as we drove through the valley to Camp Curry.

El Capitan

Yosemite Falls

Half Dome and traffic

 Mary was tired, so she stayed behind while I went exploring.  I took the shuttle bus (one thing the park service does right in Yosemite, but what they really need to do is ban daytrip traffic from the valley altogether — make the shuttles mandatory for daytrippers) to Yosemite Falls, and walked with the crowds to the base of the lower falls:

Beautiful, but the crowds…

From the shuttle stop

 We ate supper at the Curry Village buffet, which wasn’t bad, actually.  Reminded me a bit of the buffet at the Old Faithful Lodge.  The one thing the concessioner did do well was the food.  Go figure.

One other thing, which I was actually expecting — it was hot.  Upper 80s the entire time in the valley.  Fortunately, it did cool down nicely at night, and it took a while to warm up in the morning.  I took advantage of this later in our stay.