The drive down from Angels Camp isn’t far from a mileage perspective, but it takes time due to the curvy nature of the roads, particularly a stretch between Moccasin and Priest Station just past the Don Pedro Reservoir (now seriously depleted due to California’s ongoing drought). Starting just east of Moccasin, State Route 120 climbs from about 910 feet in elevation to about 2,450 feet over a distance of six miles. Old Priest Grade, a narrower road and predecessor to the current route, covers the same change in elevation over about 2.7 miles, lies in view across the canyon known as Grizzly Gulch. During summer when temperatures can be in the 90~100 °F range, it is common to see vehicles with smoking brakes descending the old grade.
We finally made it to Yosemite Valley and I produced my National Parks Senior Pass at the park entrance, gaining us free access for our stay. This lifetime pass is available to United States citizens or permanent residents 62 years of age or older and can be used at over 2,000 Federal recreation sites across the nation, including National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, and many National Forest lands. It admits the Pass owner and any passengers traveling with him/her in a non-commercial vehicle at per-vehicle fee areas or the Pass owner and three additional adults where per-person fees are charged. We’ve used it a few times in the last year and will derive great value from it in the future
If you’ve never been to Yosemite it is difficult to describe the feeling you get when you round a curve and gain your first glimpse of the valley. Beyond the staggering natural beauty of the place, which always stuns, are the memories this place invokes. My parents spent their honeymoon here and it became a place we visited many times when I was a kid, camping alongside the Merced River in either Lower or Upper River Campground. I’d return for my first visit as an adult in 1969 as a high school graduation trip with a Sea Scout buddy, Terry Apitz (we left from the Newport 69 three-day rock concert at Devonshire Downs) and have since returned more times than I can remember.
The valley has also been the setting for two key moments in my life that would form the basis for the person I have become. The first was in June 1975 when I camped there for some number of days with three girls I knew from our days socializing with employees of the Teepee Club (the day care center where good friends Chris and Mark sent their child Greg). We were staying at Camp 4, the walk in campground near Yosemite Falls, which is the headquarters for the world-class rock climbers that scale the granite walls of the valley.
One warm afternoon I was sitting in the doorway of our large tent observing a number of the camp’s other occupants, many my age and who had chosen to live a vagabond life, but using state of the art camping gear. As I sat there, the romantic notion of a period of life on the road, living out of a tent, carrying it all in a backpack, could be an exciting course to take.
A year later I would return with Rendy and camp at Upper River Campground and meet a girl, Joan, who had spent four months traveling from the east coast to a nursing job in San Francisco. At some point she mentioned to the two of us that we should go to Europe. I’d return to work at Wilshire Insurance, my first job out of college (where I met three of my best friends, J.B., Doug, and Tom) and find out later that fall that the company would be closing by the next spring. So it had all fallen into place; I’d head to Europe and live that vagabond life for a time. And my life has never been the same.
We pulled into Curry Village and checked into our heated tent cabin. Lodging in the valley is pretty expensive and camping is hard to come by due to the reduced inventory that resulted from the closure of half of the total the campgrounds that were damaged in the 1997 flood. The heated tent offered a pretty cost effective way to spend a few days there for about $65 a night as long as you didn’t mind walking a short distance to the rest rooms and showers.
After lugging our bags over from the car and putting all food items in the bear locker outside the tent, we walked over to the main area of Curry with its outdoor shop (the Mountain Shop), market, burger stand (closed for the season) pizza joint, dining pavilion (closed for the season except for the Peet’s coffee outlet) and the Curry Village Lounge, where we’d spend most mornings and early evenings given the recent introduction of wireless coverage there.
Still full from the big sandwich at lunch we brought a few beers, cheese, apple, and crackers over to the Lounge and set up shop outside on the porch, the unseasonably warm weather providing a pleasant environment for eating, drinking and soaking up the view, Half Dome looming over the Dining Pavilion.
It had been a long day of driving, full of great scenery, many memories, and the anticipation of spending three nights in one of our favorite places. There are many spots in the world where just being there puts you in the right mood. This was one of those.
National Parks Senior Pass: http://www.nps.gov/lavo/planyourvisit/upload/-Final-OMB-Approved-Senior-Pass-App80-pdf.pdf