YOSEMITE: A PARK FOR ALL SEASONS
By Linda Ballou
On this episode of Big Blend Radio, travel writer and author Linda Ballou shares her outdoor adventures in Yosemite National Park and her stay at Tenaya Lodge, located just outside the south entrance.
Yosemite offers an array of natural attractions throughout the year. Spring’s snow melt gorges waterfalls that gush over granite lips to the Merced River, charging to the valley floor and giving river rafters a thrill. Emerald meadows are festooned with wildflowers and the park’s creatures come alive after a long winter. In languid summer days, hikers cool off with a dip in the glacier-fed waters of the Merced. Magical winter scenes call for snowshoe walks and cross-country skiing.
Skirt the crowds in busy Yosemite Valley with a stay at Tenaya Lodge. Located just outside the south entrance, it makes a perfect home-base for explorations in the 1,169 sq. mile park. I was surprised to learn that famed Yosemite Valley is a 35-mile (one-hour) drive from the south gate entrance. Glacier Point provides a stunning view of the valley floor, Half Dome, North Dome, and a mountain-scape that spreads to eternity and is another hours drive, whether you are approaching it from the lodge or the valley floor. The Mariposa Grove of giant sequoia is just inside the south gate entrance and the historic Wawona Hotel. The nature center is just 4 miles from the south entrance. Whether you stay inside the valley, which is a beehive of activity, or outside the park in the peaceful setting of Tenaya Lodge, you will find that mountain driving is in order if you want to get to the high points in a short visit.
Tenaya Lodge offers an all-day tour in an open-air safari vehicle that takes you to all the high points in the massive park. This saves you time trying to figure things out, and leaves the driving to your competent guide. Tenaya is an all-inclusive, high-end resort with hot and cold pools, a complete spa center with steam room and sauna, indoor/outdoor patio dining, and a very attentive staff.
You emerge from the dark of a mile-long tunnel drilled through granite, to a vista of Yosemite Valley captured by artists like Ansel Adams in black and white photography, and landscape artist Albert Bierstadt. Bierstadt, a White Mountain artist so dumbstruck by the beauty of Yosemite, painted the 40-foot square landscape, Looking Down the Yosemite Valley, in 1864. It brought hordes of tourists from the east. This view of El Capitan in the fore and Half Dome in the distance, continues to inspire millions of visitors from around the globe each year.
If you choose to hike the most popular trail in the park to Vernal and Nevada Falls, do it early in the day. In spring, hikers ascending the 600 granite steps to the base of the falls, are soaked with spray. In summer, the waters calm but temps can go into the 90s. This, combined with elevation gain and a mile climb, can cause heat stroke. Carry lots of water and make rest stops in the shade on a rock overlooking the charging Merced River below.
There are hike options for all levels of fitness, from rock climbers to handicapped. The trails in the valley are paved and family friendly. The park’s shuttle service has 20 stops in the valley, with Yosemite Falls being one of the easiest hikes. This easy walk loops to the Yosemite Lodge where, if you are not inclined to hike and want to see as much as you can in a short time, you can catch a tour on an open-air tram with a ranger guide. ($37.50)
A snaking road, through a thick forest, takes you to Glacier Point with a vista of unrivaled beauty. My lunch stop was the Washburn Overlook where Half Dome dominates the scene with three waterfalls and unceasing mountaintops. At Glacier Point you overlook the verdant valley 3,200 feet below. There are many trails fanning out from Glacier Point, but the Panorama trail takes you along the rim for more stunning views.
Recently refurbished trails, throughout the Mariposa Grove of ancient sequoia, are accessed by shuttle at a parking lot just inside the south entrance to the park. Here is a chance to breathe deeply the tranquility of the forest, and admire the nobility of these giants that have withstood fire, flood, and the intrusion of mankind for thousands of years. The Grizzly trail to the patriarch of the park, is an easy amble anyone can enjoy.
I found my moment with nature on a 3-mile loop near the historic Wawona Hotel, built in 1897. I was the sole hiker on this path shaded by towering pines and sequoias tracing a lush meadow. Persimmon-tipped willows framing the meadow, spoke of fall just around the corner. In spring the meadow is awash in wildflowers and in winter the level trail is perfect for cross-country skiing.
One mile south of Tenaya Lodge, Yosemite Trails Saddle and Sleigh, located in the Sierra National Forest, offers rides in a pristine wilderness. A highlight on my journey was the 2-hour ride on a fit, well-mannered mount. Through the deep shade of ponderosa pines and incense cedar trees, we clomped across clear water streams framed in frilly ferns, to Vista Crest with views forever.
In an attempt to bring nature closer to their guests, Tenaya Lodge owners are building a complex of cabins with decks overlooking Big Creek, where birdsong is your wake-up call. They are excited to offer 2-bedroom cabins big enough to share. The clubhouse, (with a restaurant,) will be completed by spring of 2020. A shuttle is currently provided from the Explorer cabins to the main lodge to give guests easy access to all amenities.
If you are looking for a very special Christmas and New Year celebration, Tenaya Lodge could be for you. The massive lobby is graced with a towering Christmas tree. The grand hall is festive with lights and holiday cheer that includes gourmet treats, dancing, and music. Sleigh rides and an ice-skating rink add to the fun. For some, Yosemite is more dazzling in winter than summer because the crowds have thinned. Vast granite walls glisten and the forest drips with icy jewels. No matter what time of year you visit one of our country’s greatest natural treasures, you will not be disappointed.
Linda Ballou is a Southern California based travel writer, and author of the books, “Lost Angel Walkabout,” “ Wai-nani: A Voice from Old Hawaii,” and “The Cowgirl Jumped Over the Moon.” Her latest effort “Lost Angel in Paradise” take readers to her favorite day trips on the Coast of California. This book is Linda’s way of giving back to all those friends who have said they would like to hike with her. From her roots in Alaska she received strength, centeredness, and respect for the awful power of nature that carried her forward into and adventure travel writing career. You will find a host of travel articles on her site www.LostAngelAdventures.com. For more about her novels and travel books go to www.LindaBallouAuthor.com.