on October 11, 2008
After a mildly disappointing night at Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia, staying at Wawona was exactly the experience we’d been hoping for. We arrived at Yosemite late on Saturday night, ending a full day that took us through three national parks and an awful lot of other countryside—including the surreal experience of descending from the mountains into sprawling Fresno, negotiating city traffic as dusk fell, and heading north and back up into the mountains under the stars.After a quick fast food meal in Oakhurst, the border town that provides much of the tourist infrastructure on Yosemite’s south side, we passed the park boundary and entrance sign in near-perfect darkness. After a few obligatory photos, we realized we still had another 8 miles until we could call it a day. A little later, we finished negotiating a final set of s-curves and pulled into the drive at Wawona. As we came around the bend, the white Victorian lodge came into view, looking every bit the part of the grand old structure we expected. Softly lit under dark skies, the long front porch brought to mind the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. I was grateful the tariff would be a lot lower than the Grand’s high rates.Our room was on the second story, around the left side, as you faced the front. Most rooms are in the main building, with more in Washburn Cottage and a few other later additions behind the hotel. The ubiquitous white paint, the cast iron bed, the small room size and the furniture all reinforce the hotel’s historic feel. Rooms come with and without bath, and we'd taken one of the latter (with my daughter’s permission), saving $80 or so. Our rate with breakfast and tax but without bath was $135. The shared bath was a short walk down the balcony, with two showers, and was about as convenient as any such arrangement could be. I loved the classic feel of the place. It began with the lobby, which seemed oddly poised somewhere between the 19th and 21st century, its dim, nearly gas-lit feel at odds with occupants’ constant attempts to find cell phone coverage. The dining room is off to the left from the front desk, and we enjoyed a great breakfast the next morning that was included with our room rate, and came with attentive servant from one of the many college students that staff such places the world around. Before heading off for a full day of exploring Yosemite (beginning by backtracking to nearby Mariposa Grove of sequoias), we wandered around the pleasant grounds, including an orientation to the park with the rangers at the Information Station housed in the neighboring old Hill Studio. A fountain fills the middle of the circle drive in front of the hotel, which seems marred by the cars that fill every bit of available pavement. Everything else at Wawona suggests a calm, unhurried pace. Even a golf course seems to fit here, suggesting an older time when the hotel was part and parcel of the destination, offering not only the park but also its own experiences. I’d love to stay here again on another trip to Yosemite. It’s not too convenient to the Valley, and much less so to Tuolumne Meadows and the other sights along the Tioga Road. But after having coped with the crowds that fill the Valley, an hour’s retreat to Wawona would be a small price to pay to restore a little of the quiet that’s easy to lose in the Valley’s crush.
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