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Yosemite and Me

Photos by Lois McKinney and Michelle Hall.

My daughter’s friend, Morgan, has camped at Yosemite annually since 1997, except for 2020 when the park was closed.  Each year Morgan invites friends to join her.  This year my daughter Michelle reserved accommodations at the age-friendly Yosemite Valley Lodge, so that I could accompany her.  Her friends would stay in what’s known as Housekeeping Camp, while we’d be doing what’s known as “glamping.”

I decided I would chronicle this vacation in real-time and began my journal.

With my daughter, Michele, at my side, we left our Oregon home around 10:00 AM on Wednesday, April 27, 2022.  Michelle had prepared our lunch, which we ate on the road.  We arrived at our destination for the night, the Fairfield Marriott in Woodland, near Sacramento. 

Thursday morning, we were on the road by 10:00 AM.  We stopped in Groveland, California, for gas at $5.15 per gallon, surprisingly low at this remote location, in view of the current high gas prices. 

Our patio.

We checked into our room at the Yosemite Valley Lodge around 3:30 PM.  The buildings are named after trees.  We stayed in Hemlock.  Our quaint room housed a queen-size bed, a full-size lower bunk and single-size upper bunk, end table, dresser, and table and two chairs, all made of rustic wood and hewn logs, creating a log cabin atmosphere. There was a television in our room, but no wi-fi.  We had a private patio with table and chairs, where we were to enjoy lunch.

We were eager to take a walk, so we had a light dinner, after which we walked out into a meadow where we could view Half Dome as the sun was starting to go down.  While Michelle unloaded the car, I watched the tail-end of a very old Turner Classic Movie, with a bunch of name stars and a plot involving husbands and wives yelling at each other.

View of Yosemite Falls from the bottom.

After a lovely breakfast of a bagel with cream cheese, a hard-cooked egg, cranberry juice, and hot tea, we took a very long walk – over two miles.  Everywhere we looked, we saw gorgeous scenery, so we stopped often to take photographs of Half Dome, El Capitan, sheer granite walls, majestic trees up to a thousand years old, and many waterfalls.  Our principal destination was the Visitors’ Center, where we viewed panoramic relief sculptures that showed Yosemite Park and how it was formed.  Then we went to the theater where we viewed a twenty-minute film that explained in detail the formation of this valley and informed us that Yosemite was named a national park by President Abraham Lincoln.  Also discussed were John Muir, Native Americans, and other people who were instrumental in saving and restoring this beautiful phenomenon known as Yosemite.  Free shuttle service was provided from 7 AM to 10 PM during our stay.  On this day, we rode the shuttle back to the lodge.

Yosemite Falls.

Michelle prepared dinner in our room, then we drove around Yosemite to view the sun beginning to set on the beautiful Yosemite sites.  I’m not sure “breathtaking” is a strong enough word to describe the beauty of Yosemite. 

Day 3

After breakfast, we took a half-mile walk to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls, our closest view of the tallest waterfall in North America.

Bridal Veil.

Michelle’s friends arrived, so we drove to their housekeeping camp.  They truly have the comforts of home.  The park provides a three-sided structure with a canvas roof. The bedroom section is enclosed and has full-size and bunk beds, and clothes racks.  The partially enclosed kitchen has one large open cupboard, a table and benches.  There is also a large bear locker.  The campers supplied everything else:  a camping kitchen/storage unit, an oversized two-tiered toaster-oven, a microwave, an electric coffee pot, and an electric tea kettle.  Their campsite was on the Merced River, so they lined up chairs and chaises facing the water, where we viewed swimmers, tubers, and paddle-boarders.  I was surprised that the swimmers seemed to really enjoy themselves in the chilly water.  I didn’t see any of them shuddering from the cold.

Horse Tail Falls.

In addition to the beautiful river view, Half-Dome could be seen from this campsite.  With all this grandeur, the campers considered this campsite second-best, having previously had river sites that included views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls.  Picky-picky.

Sunset at Half Dome. Photo by Michelle Hall.
An incredible site that welcomed us after the tunnel. Photo by Lois McKinney.

Michelle supplied the group with a dinner of potato/leek/mushroom soup, baquettes, and Waldorf Salad.  Crème brulee was provided by Morgan.  I was to learn that these campers eat nothing but gourmet meals.

8. Housekeeping Camp

Day 4

Michelle arose early and rode her bicycle to Housekeeping Camp to visit her friends.  Yosemite is a bicyclists’ paradise.  Except for a few hiking-only trails, the many trails in Yosemite are great for biking. 

I lounged around this morning and did some reading on the patio.  I’d come prepared to read several books, but this was my first chance to indulge in them because there is little reading time with so much to see. 

Sope — courtesy of our campsite neighbors.

We joined our camping friends in the late afternoon for visiting, conversation, enjoying the beautiful view, and dinner which consisted of a Mexican vegetable dish called Calabasitas, along with Carne Guisada, and, of course, Margueritas.  Dessert was Bailey’s Irish crème brulee.  We sat around the campfire for a while and enjoyed watching the setting sun light up Half Dome.

Wildlife is abundant in Yosemite.  We saw many deer and squirrels.  We knew there were bears because of the warnings about sealing up all food, but we didn’t see any yet.  Birdwatchers can find many varieties of birds.  Among the ones we saw were Black Swifts, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Crows, Clark’s Nutcrackers, Brewer’s Blackbirds, Acorn Woodpeckers, Pileated Woodpeckers, and I even saw some Robins and Steller’s Jays in the campground.

Day 5

This is the day we set aside to visit Mariposa Grove.  After our usual breakfast, we headed to the camp to pick up Maria and Kathy to accompany us.  The drive to the grove took close to an hour, longer than it would have taken if we didn’t stop, but we stopped often to photograph various highlights, including a panaromic view (also known as the Tunnel View, when the photo is taken upon exiting a tunnel on the highway) of El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridal Veil Falls, and much of Yosemite Valley.  We also saw Horse Tail Falls.  One of the things I’d hoped to see in Yosemite was climbers going up the sheer granite valley walls.  At one point, we actually saw six climbers going up El Capitan.  Binoculars were needed to verify the number.  When we saw them, they were just beginning their climb.

Can you see the climbers of El Capitan?
The Tunnel Tree and Me.

We had another exciting moment when a bear scampered across the road in front of our car.  We were delighted that another of our Yosemite goals had been met – to see a bear!

Using my handicap placard, we were able to drive into Mariposa Grove, but only to a certain point.  To reach our destination, we needed to hike  close to a mile, uphill, to see the many giant Sequoia trees.  We saw an arrangement of four trees – one really large and three a bit smaller – that were dubbed The Bachelor and three Maidens.  We continued on until we came to the Grizzly Giant, probably the largest tree we would see.  Finally, we saw the Tunnel Tree, which had a tunnel all the way through it.

Dinner this night was meatloaf cakes, mashed potatoes, and carrots.  The dessert was cheesecake with cherry compote topping.

Day 6

We started the day with brunch at the Ahwahnee Hotel, as guests of Bill and Susie, our friends who were lodging there. Then we took a brief tour of the hotel, which included an exhibit of women who had contributed to Yosemite over the years.  We then ventured outside where we sat with refreshing drinks while also drinking in the beautiful scenery, which included a different view of Half Dome, a small waterfall, and gorgeous blooming dogwood trees.  We were amused by a pair of California Ground Squirrels that were chasing one another.  We also saw a very noisy crow, Red-Winged Blackbirds, and Brewer’s Blackbirds.

Marshmallow bunny

Dinner was again delicious and far from the usual camping food:  braised beef with carrots and gravy over rice.  These dinners always include wine and hors d’ouvres of cheeses, crackers, fruits and raw vegetables.  Michelle supplied the dessert:  pineapple upside-down cake, which she prepared in the electric skillet, with whipped cream.  Later Michelle brought out sticks and chocolate marshmallow bunnies that we roasted over the fire for a sweet treat.

As we sat around our campfire, a very nice lady, the matriarch of the neighboring campsite, brought sopes for all of us. Even though we had had a large dinner, there was no way that we’d turn down authentic Mexican food. All of the delicious sopes were consumed. Then our group visited with their group, and we realized what a small world we live in. They were from Whittier, not far from my former home, one of the women shared Michelle’s career as a nurse, the men and their kids attended CalHi, Michelle’s alma mater, and two of the men had played football at Whittier College, my husband’s and daughter Jeannette’s alma mater. These two really big guys teared up when they learned that they were meeting the wife and daughter of Evan McKinney, for whom the Evan McKinney award was named. This trophy is presented annually to an outstanding Whittier College lineman.

Fresh crystal clear water at the base of upper Yosemite Falls.

Day 7

A bobcat visit.

The plan for this day was a drive to Happy Isles Nature and Art Center with Morgan and Kathy accompanying us.  We drove as far as permitted, and then walked to the Center.  Displayed were pictures and reproductions of the animals, trees, various plants, and rocks of Yosemite.  There were displays of foliage, pinecones and bark from the various trees. I hadn’t realized that Douglas Fir, Ponderosa Pine, and Incense Cedar trees have distinctly different kinds of bark. We walked around Happy Isles and crossed a bridge over this roaring section of the Merced River.  As we were heading to our car, a bobcat sauntered across our path, to make our day complete.

Dinner consisted of hors d’oeuvres of crudités, a variety of cheeses, a selection of dips, crackers and chips, nuts, cookies, and wines, followed by toasted coconut-covered marshmallows roasted over the campfire.  We said our good-byes because we’d be leaving in the morning.

A monstrous manzanita.

Day 8

As we were driving out of the Yosemite Valley, we stopped to get one more view of climbers going up the sheer face of El Capitan, through binoculars, of course.  The climbers looked to be about half-way up, which I’ve learned means that they were less than one-fourth of the way.

We drove to the Fairfield Marriott, where we’d stayed on our way to Yosemite, to spend the night.  Wi-Fi at last!  I read my 168 emails before retiring for the night.  We arrived home at around 3:30 PM on May 6th.  Banjo, our Goldendoodle, was beside himself with joy; and gifts of flowers and chocolates from Michelle’s husband awaited us.   Yosemite was great – no question about it – but being home is pretty great, too.

The gang’s all here.
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