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Yosemite Trip Compilation Part 2Author: Judy P. (More Trip Reviews by Judy P.)
Date of Trip: January 2001
Read Part 1
This is one of the first things you come to when you enter the valley. Drive into the parking lot. The walk to the falls is a little steeper and more difficult than I like, but a lot of people do it -- you be the judge. The walk up to it is very pretty, with the river meandering through the area. As you get closer to the falls, it gets steep, cold, wet, and very slippery. You really see it better just standing in the parking lot! And it's a lot more comfortable! Well -- maybe just walk a little ways up the trail -- it is very pretty.
Beyond Bridalveil Falls (5 minutes?) is the Swinging Bridge Once you leave the parking lot of Bridalveil, the Swinging Bridge and "beach" area show up suddenly on your left side, while you're just driving through some trees in the valley before you get to anything else, with not much parking available. As soon as you see perpendicular parked cars to your left, slow down and try to get in there with them. There isn't a parking lot, per se, just some head-in-only parking on the side of the road. There's a pretty walking bridge that crosses over the Merced, some pretty river and mountain scenery, a "beachy" area, and picnic tables. There are some pit toilets there. It's pretty to walk over the bridge and look around.
The Chapel, built in 1879, it's the oldest building still in use in Yosemite. It's somewhere along the road on your way into the valley in an open meadow. (I'm not exactly sure, but you can't miss it off to your right.) It's very cute -- very popular for weddings. But the inside is kind of ugly and very musty smelling. I was disappointed. I wonder how many brides have passed out in there during the summer. It was pretty much ruined during the Flood of '97, so they had to do some major refurbishing.
Follow the signs to the Village Store. You will be making a left turn that will instantly take you over Sentinel Bridge. Look to your right. It's a beautiful view of Half Dome and the Merced River. A big attraction for photographers at sunset, as Half Dome lights up sort of orange (alpenglow) and reflects in the river. It's gorgeous! There's a parking lot just beyond the bridge, off to your left if you want to get out and look. If you're thinking about getting a picture, to do it any justice, you'll need a split neutral density filter to darken the sky. Otherwise, it washes out and just goes blah.
The Main Store, Day Use Parking, Food, Cash, etc., in the Valley There are signs everywhere directing you to the Day Use Parking Lot. You can take shuttle busses from there to just about everywhere in the valley. If you just need to go to the store, I think it is a two hour time limit to park in the store parking lot. (The two parking lots are a long block away from each other.)
As you approach the main store, there's a wooden kiosk out front that sells tickets to the "Two-Hour Valley Floor Tour." (I think they charge $18 per person or something like that.) This is an open tram ride with a guide. It's wonderful! But again, I think it's only open during the summer. If it's cold out, make sure you are bundled up! It picks you up across the street from the ticket kiosk, in front of the Garage. And it also stops at The Ahwahnee Hotel and the Yosemite Lodge.
It goes up to the Lookout Point and your guide will point out many fascinating facts. It's just about the only way to cool off on a hot summer day if you don't care to don a bathing suit and go play in the slightly frigid river.
The Valley Store is the place to get lots of good Yosemite touristy stuff! And food. It has a pretty large grocery store and a large souvenir store. There's a decent bathroom around the backside (you can exit out the back of the store and turn to your left) and to your right is also a hamburger stand (pretty crummy actually). You can eat there only outside on the patio. It may be too cold, but the blue jays and squirrels are fun to watch. There is also a sporting goods store (keen on mountaineering and camping equipment, or course), an art/book store, and an ATM at the end of the buildings. If, when you exited the rear of the store, instead of turning left, head straight for the road, turn right at the sidewalk, and walk a ways (a block or two?). There are many more buildings, including a Degnan's Loft (pretty good pizza, up a flight of stairs), a semi-deli/store for sandwiches with only a few tables and chairs, some shops, a post office, an Ansel Adams gallery/store, and an Indian museum and an old graveyard.
The Degnan's Loft pizza place is the best deal in town. (See above for location.) Everywhere else is either a crummy hamburger or cafeteria or a hopelessly overpriced so-so meal. Hope you like pizza. (You wait in line to order, then they bring it to your table. Not fancy, but it's pretty good and has large picture windows so you can enjoy a pretty view.)
A nice walk across the street from the main store, you'll see a "Garage" and a Fire Station. Walk to the intersection at either end of that block and go around the corner and get on the walkway (not really a full-on sidewalk) that runs parallel directly behind the Garage. You'll walk about 1/4 to 1/2 mile on a nice walkway, with a gorgeous meadow and view of Half Dome on one side of you (to the east) and some neat privately-owned homes on the left. You'll just be walking around the block, back to the store parking lot. Get back in your car and leave the parking lot and follow the signs to The Ahwahnee Hotel.
The Ahwahnee Hotel
Opened in 1927, it's another nice thing to do. It's at the northeast end of the valley. On the street, you will pass through a "gate" that says "Ahwahnee." Then a few seconds later look to your left and you will see what's left of a large rock slide that happened quite some time ago (I don't remember when). One of the tour guides once said that it happened in the early morning and the noise woke up all the guests in the hotel. Everyone panicked, but it stopped short of burying the hotel. Rumor has it that the maids had to change a lot of sheets that day! Park in the lot (it's kind of weird, but I always find a space). When you get out of your car, look up at the mountains right there across from the hotel. Incredible. Walk to the main entrance of the hotel. (It's a wooden overhang and walkway.) Go inside -- to your left is a nice bar to sit and enjoy a drink and look out the windows. To your right is a "foo-foo" junk store. If it's nice outside, you can go sit out on the patio and have a drink. I suggest that you walk outside (around the "back") a little ways away from the hotel so you can see the "whole picture." It's really quite stunning -- the hotel architecture, the trees in front of it, and the mountains behind it. The hotel is made out of concrete, not wood, as it appears. Then there's the famous 4-star restaurant in the other end of the hotel. (I didn't care for the service or the food, but it's famous! Very hoity-toity -- need to be dressed up to get in.) At least take a peek inside. Also, walk beyond the dining room (to the left of it) and look at The Grand Room. Old Indian décor and a fireplace that an army could stand in. (The price to stay there is up to $360 per night for a standard room!)
Leave there and follow the signs to Yosemite Lodge (or The Lodge.) About half way to the Lodge, you'll approach Yosemite Falls. (It's the big double-decker falls on the north side of the valley). Turn into the parking lot.
Stop to look at Lower Yosemite Falls While you're driving, approaching Yosemite Falls on your way out of the valley (to your left going into the valley -- to your right going out of the valley), drive very slowly when you are about to pass it and look down near the bottom of it, in line with the sidewalk. (Or pull over, park, and walk.) There is a perfect clearing of the trees right in front of the lower falls so that you can see it from the street. If you blink you'll miss it! There is a meadow across from the falls and in that meadow used to be a hotel. The owner thought that it would be neat to clear a path to the falls so his guests could enjoy the view. Mysteriously, soon after he did that, his hotel caught fire and burned to the ground, never to be re-built. How sad.
You'll be driving along through the valley and come across a turn-out to a parking lot on your right for Lower Yosemite Falls. Park in the lot.
Lower Yosemite Falls Trail -- Mild hike/walk -- Maybe 1/4 to a 1/2 mi. loop? 30 to 45 minutes? Pretty easy and beautiful scenery. Park in the lot and follow the trail up to Lower Falls -- You'll be right in front of the falls. There is a slight/medium incline up to the falls -- take your time -- it ain't goin' nowhere. But then keep going around to the right, beyond the falls -- the trail loops and ends up back at the parking lot. About 3/4 of the way through, as you're heading back to the parking lot, (sort of in a straight-away, "ferny" area), keep a lookout to your left; there's a break in the trees and you will see Half Dome in all its glory. Spectacular surprise photo shot. A little bit further is a bench where John Muir had built a cabin with a view of Yosemite Falls. History big time. This trail was "under construction" and the falls and riverbed were completely dry when I was there in September 2002. Hopefully, the river isn't taking over the trail in springtime. But there were a couple little bridges, so I assume it's passable.
The Yosemite Lodge
The lodge is rather spread out, blah, and nothing spectacular. But just behind the main lobby is a small amphitheater and restaurants and stores. The Mountain Room Restaurant (in the middle corner) is a semi-decent, sort-of-over-priced restaurant (nothing spectacular, except for the view of Yosemite Falls). There is a bar next door to the right (which I've never been in), a nice little junk store further to the right, a few more tourist shops in between, and a very mediocre cafeteria at the left end.
You can drive around and follow the signs to Camp Curry, Housekeeping Camp, and Upper and Lower Pines campgrounds, just to look around at the camp sites if you want. You might get lucky and see a bear in the campgrounds. I never have. But I have seen many coyotes and deer.
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