Yosemite - It's Spectacular!

Yosemite's been described by John Muir and photographed by Ansel Adams, but words can’t describe it, and pictures can’t capture it. It’s the Holy Grail of the environmental movement. See it for yourself, if possible, in the spring or early summer, when the waterfalls are running full.


Wawona Hotel

Member Rating 1 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on January 17, 2005

A combination of high prices and low availability for lodging in Yosemite Valley led me to booking at the historic Wawona Hotel on the south side of the park. Some rooms share a bath; as big spenders, we took one with a private bath. The total cost was a bit over $180 per night.

"Historic" should have been the tip-off. Generally, "historic" means rundown, tired, or not up to today’s standards. Certainly the 125-year-old Wawona Hotel qualifies as historic.

There’s a complex consisting of the main building, an annex, and four small cottage buildings. All have quaint wooden porches that amplify the sound of footsteps and make any wheeled luggage sound like a freight train. There is no television, radio, or air-conditioning. Our bathroom was tiny, with weak water pressure. Walls are paper thin: if someone sneezed next door, people in adjoining rooms would say, "Bless you." Our neighbor was reading "The Firm" by John Grisham… out loud. We thought about knocking on the wall and asking for quiet, but it was a fairly gripping yarn.

For entertainment, there’s a guy playing piano in the lounge from 5 to 9:30pm. It’s pleasant in a really low-key way to sit out on the main building porch listening for awhile, sipping on a drink. We took a night walk out onto the golf course and sat in the dark at the first tee watching a small herd of deer grazing 20 to 30 feet away. At first it was tense - on both sides - but they soon realized we were harmless and we realized we could carry on a normal conversation without bothering them. After 20 minutes, we went our separate ways.

When we return to Yosemite, we’ll try to stay in Yosemite Valley. If that’s a problem, we'll try the bed-and-breakfasts in Yosemite West or El Portal, private land just outside the park boundaries. We won’t be back to the Wawona.

Wawona Hotel
Route 41, Curry Vlg South Entrance
Yosemite National Park, California, 95389
(209) 375-6572

Horseback Riding at Yosemite

Member Rating 1 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on January 17, 2005

Yosemite Stables Trail Ride

209/372-8348

Capsule comment: Share two hours of trail dust with flies and flatulent mules!

All right, you deserve more information. The stables in Yosemite Valley offer 2-hour rides into Tenaya Canyon ($51 per person), 4-hour rides with views of Vernal and Nevada Falls ($67), and on Sundays only, an all-day ride to Half Dome ($94). We figured that maybe the ride would take us someplace we’d be unlikely to hike, so we signed on for the Tenaya Canyon ride. According to the National Park Service map, "Hiking in Tenaya Canyon is dangerous and strongly discouraged." Perfect!

Our first surprise was that the horseback ride turned out to be a mule train. The mules attracted flies and, since we never moved quickly, those flies kept us company for the entire trip. After 15 minutes on the trail, mules randomly broke out with violent gas attacks. It was amusing when your mule exploded but much less amusing when it was the mule immediately ahead of you. We slowly plodded our dusty way along a well-worn path past Mirror Lake, which I missed because there wasn’t any water in it. It was more of an overgrown meadow.

After one hour, the mules simply stopped. I figured it was time for a short break, but instead, we turned the line around and headed back to the stable on the same old trail.

Maximum weight for riders is 225 pounds. Long pants and closed-toe shoes are recommended. Riders must be at least seven years old, and kids up to 12 would think the whole thing is pretty cool.

Yosemite Valley Stable

Yosemite National Park, California

Sentinel Dome Trail

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on January 17, 2005

Sentinel Dome isn’t much more than an easy mile hike from the Taft Point Parking Lot on Glacier Point Road. We timed our walk to have a backpacked dinner at the top and watch the sunset.

The trail is a gentle up and down until reaching the dome itself, a rounded granite bubble. The 8,100-foot elevation made the last scramble up a bit of work for us sea-level dwellers, and the slick rock underfoot made it important to keep looking down. That only made it all the more spectacular at the top, where we could catch our breath and look around. And looking around took our breath away again!

The only thought that came to mind at first was, "Wow," followed by, "Did I just say that out loud?" On the exposed rock dome, it’s like being on top of the world. There are views in every direction: El Capitan, Half Dome, and the setting sun and mountains everywhere. From the top of Sentinel Dome, the land falls away in every direction, so there are no trees or brush to block the view.

A small cadre of people collected on the dome for sunset. Some, like us, had sandwiches, snacks, and drinks. One group had a fully packed picnic basket, with plates, silverware, and wine glasses. Others more appreciative of the beauty surrounding us, or perhaps simply less hungry, spent their time scampering around to find the ideal spot for a photo while remarking that a picture couldn’t come close to capturing the moment. As the sun went down, we all realized simultaneously that the walk back to our cars could be tricky in the dark and cleared out in a hurry!

This was truly a singular experience. It’s easy (460-foot elevation gain, 2.2 miles round-trip). It’s spectacular. Do it!

Sentinel Dome Trail
Off Glacier Point Rd.
Yosemite National Park, California, 95389

Taft Point Hike

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on January 17, 2005

Taft Point is 1.1 miles away from the Taft Point Parking Lot on Glacier Point Road. It’s an exposed rock that overhangs Yosemite Valley below, almost directly across from El Capitan. From the cliffs, cathedral spires and the valley entrance are visible to the west. Across the valley you can see Yosemite Falls. At least you could if you came earlier in the year. During our visit in the fall, it was dry.

The walk is easy, trending slightly downhill most of the way. Naturally, coming back it’s a slight uphill. As the path winds through the woods, be sure to look for wildlife. We were surprised to see deer grazing about 20 feet away at one point, and later, grouse standing stock-still not 5 feet away from the trail. Other hikers passed, talking and not noticing anything, but the animals didn’t seem worried. After almost 1 mile, the trail breaks out of the woods onto rock ledges that make the south edge of the Yosemite Valley wall. Cracks, called fissures, cut into the rock. Sizes vary, but there are some that are maybe 40 feet long and 6 feet wide – and hundreds of feet deep!

At the point, smoke from controlled fires on the valley floor made the cliff top view slightly hazy, but the wood smoke smell was a wonderful tradeoff. Perched on a rock overlooking the valley, the only sound was a soft breeze through the pines, broken by an occasional, "Please don’t go any closer to the edge!" from my hiking companion. Its funny, but after handing her the car keys, she was much more willing to let me explore along the edge.

There’s a railing at Profile Cliff, but it’s the only one. Sheer drops are all around. I wouldn't be comfortable taking kids along on this hike.

Taft Point Hike
Off Glacier Point Rd.
Yosemite National Park, California, 95389

Mist Trail and Vernal Falls

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on January 17, 2005

The trail starts at the Happy Isles shuttle bus stop, with a gradual uphill walk into a narrowing canyon along the Merced River. About a quarter-mile in, there’s a second canyon that opens up to the south. We’re told that Illouette Falls can be seen at the far end, but it was dry when we hiked. It’s a 0.75-mile walk to the footbridge over the Merced River, which offers a great first view of Vernal Falls. Many people use this as a turn-around point, and many also appreciate the water fountain and restrooms on the far side of the bridge.

Cross the bridge and continue up the Mist Trail. It’s another 0.75-mile from the bridge to the top of the falls. Things quickly get steeper. We understand that the trail is aptly named—during much of the year, there’s a mist in the air, making both visibility and footing difficult. Again, in early October, the river and falls were very tame, so we didn’t have any mist-related issues.

The National Parks people say there are 600 steep stone steps to the top of the falls—but who’s counting? We can’t imagine how treacherous the climb up the ledges and granite steps would be if they were slick with moisture. Some spots were dangerous and slippery from a fine coating of dust! At the end of the steepest stretch, the trail turns left toward the top of the falls along a narrow ledge, protected by a handrail (thankfully).

At the top of Vernal Falls, there’s a railing so you can get right to the edge. There’s something hypnotic about standing there, watching the river hurtle over the edge. Take a short walk upstream to see Emerald Pool, where the river collects and settles before careening madly off the cliff, and Silver Apron, a flat rock slope where the river spreads out and slides into the pool.

If you’re feeling up to it, continue on to Nevada Falls, another mile or so up the trail.

Mist Trail and Vernal Falls
Yosemite Valley
Yosemite National Park, California

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