Saturday
Sep082012

« The 36 and a Half Dome Tour, Saturday »

There weren't any morning prayers but the nun was there at the counter at 8:45 when we went down for our modest motel style breakfast of fresh waffle and a bowl of cereal. For $40 covering both of us, there's no sense in whining. The fact that they can afford to put a bed and AC unit in there for that price is kind of amazing. At Yosemite, we were looking at $96 a night to stay in a concrete shell with two tent tarps stretched over the top with some more flaps forming a doorway, with beds and a picnic table out in the little porch space. The bear-proof box does not have a parallel in any hotel or motel I've ever been in!

Getting on the road, we had to right ourselves after the last minute detour out of Bakersfield. We found ourselves just west of that town and found that the road outside the motel would take us straight over to the 99 freeway. Not too bad. That took 20 minutes and then we were off and running by about 9:30.

The central valley of California is a pretty forgettable place. It's known as America's Salad Bowl because it is such an agriculturally productive region. But on the roads, it's trucks, trashed freeways and mile after mile of farms. There is enough dust and particulate matter combining with the humidity in that huge valley that there is not a lot of visibility. In the summer, it's pretty hot and since it's so far inland, there's no cool refreshing breeze or anything. It's an oppressive place that just sort of needs to be endured on the way to one end of the state or another, or to get to places like Yosemite, Tahoe, and Mono Lake.

But since this day was one when we thought we'd relax and enjoy the route some, it was okay for Kelli to spark a quick drivethrough detour into Kingsburg, a town south of Fresno founded by Swedish immigrants, and that has that kind of small town charm that you can barely connect with in places like San Diego that are surrounded by more cities on all sides, all grown into one another. This was just a quick pass but it was enough to make me think there might be some charming places along these roadways that I have pretty much written off.

Today wasn't the day for investigating the valley though. We were here to get to the mountains and to check in to our funky concrete and canvas yurt at the Yosemite Valley Housekeeping camp. The one town I did want to check out was Mariposa, a place in the foothills some miles before Yosemite's gates. It is a town where I used to visit annually for most years in the 80s when it was the venue for a BMW motorcycle rally that my old man used to take me and (for a couple years of overlap) my step mom to. We always went there on Memorial Day weekend and from year to year I got to see familiar faces and did some day trips to Yosemite. But I doubt I went even in 1989, and if I went in 1988, I have forgotten about it. But from 1981 onward, I think it was an annual ride. The rally was held at the fairgrounds just outside of town, and it was a pleasant surprise to find that Kelli and I could drive into the grounds and just give her an idea of how those old days went for me.

We headed out to the town and stopped to walk around for an hour or so, taking in the old Gold Rush era town. It's kind of like our local mount tourist town Julian, but about 40 years older. We were able to meander our way up and down the two blocks or so of viable town, checking in at a few shops, taking a bathroom break, and stopping in the Yosemite visitor center to get our park pass. I didn't expect much, but it was nice to connect with the town again after over two decades.

All that lay ahead was forty four miles of winding roads, following the Merced river for many miles, upstream into the park. The river just below the road was crystal clear and shimmering in the mid afternoon sun. We came upon the one lane road that has a stop sign at each end of the half mile or so path that navigates a single lane bridge that crosses the river. The signs say it could take 15 minutes to wait out the other direction's traffic, but we got through in less than five. At the boundary of the park there was a gas station to provide the last minute opportunity before entering the valley where there were no stations for miles. It was priced accordingly: $5.01 for the cheap stuff.

The Yosemite Valley is a long and narrow place that is totally shrouded in trees and lined with the granite walls and giant boulders that define the park. The road is primarily a loop with one way lanes running all the way out and back and a few crossing points along the way to make shorter loops. Now having taken my seat as a passenger I was able to shoot the camera at anything and everything. On the one side, the enormous wall of granite, El Capitan, stood like a sentry watching over the valley. Ahead of us, the mighty Half Dome. To the right, Bridalveil Falls, rather sparse in this late season, compounded by drought, but impressive nonetheless. Beside us in the valley, the river and alternating patches of meadows and forest.

We stopped at the Swinging Bridge and enjoyed the water on our feet. It was cold at first, first fruits of the glacial icepacks that birthed it, but it got to feeling quite comfortable after a few minutes. Camera in tow, I was a bit timid about getting too far into the water but it was clear we'd have to get into the river a bit. Kelli watched in wonder and amusement as a duck sailed up right near her like she was an old friend.

After a day of driving what was really about a four hour drive, we decided to get to camp and get established before the store closed at 6. There were lights in the tent and patio but we were wondering if we needed a lantern. Decided against it and also decided against getting a box of firewood. That was a good thing. On the Saturday night before everyone made their sunday trips back home, it was noisy and smoky as everyone had their firepits going. It rather offended my respiratory system, compounding the shift already brought on by the 4000' elevation. I got a headache and found myself rather tired and depleted. But not before a pleasant walk down to the river just a short way from our tent.

The river was shallow and rather calm. It was flowing but not with any force. The valley is deep and the sun is eclipsed from sight about an hour before sunset everywhere else. With the trees everywhere, the effect is that it is getting dark rather early. But look to a higher point—Half Dome—and the sun is all over it, turning it harvest gold and orange. As we walked along the river, following its contour that provided a natural boundary to the campsite, people were out on the sandy shores, watching the sun set on Half Dome. Kelli and I walked along the pebbly beach up to another bridge. Realizing how fine the dust was in the campsite and knowing it would be hopeless to try to keep clean this weekend, we walked into the water again and at least chilled our heels. It was just as easy to kick at the sand some and to go rinse off again. Sweet. Eventually we got back to the tent and had dinner and some of the 1.5 liter bottle of wine we had along for the weekend. I barely needed that to feel totally out of it. Kelli read me something from a book and I dozed off on one of the beds. Needing to take care of the nightly routine stuff, I had to get up and make some effort. But then I was out. Nevermind trying to stay up till my normal 4 am. This was over with by 11 or so.

Stay tuned for more.

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