We left the Visitor Center and walked back over to the food shops at the Village, picking up some coffee and soup to go along with the sandwich’s we had made back at camp. It was pleasantly chilly, to sit outside and enjoy the clear air and pleasant surroundings. Once finished we walked a ½ mile or so to the Ahwahnee Hotel to take part in a scheduled historic tour of that famous facility.
The National Park System is well known for some of its iconic lodges, like the El Tovar at the Grand Canyon or the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone and the Ahwahnee certainly belongs to that group. Constructed from steel, stone, concrete, wood and glass, it opened in 1927 and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987. We’ve stopped in here many times for a late afternoon drink on the patio and have dined once in the marvelous dining room, but have not stayed as the price point for rooms is a bit above our budget.
Over the course of the next ninety minutes we’d be treated to a comprehensive and entertaining tour by a park guide whose enthusiasm for her job and the park in general elevated the experience from the mundane to the sublime. The Wikipedia link goes into great detail about the design and construction of the hotel, which were part of the tour, so I won’t cover that in this post. What stood out for me the most was how integral the hotel was to the success of Yosemite as a destination in its early years.
While the park itself, through the original concessionaires the Curry Company, provided many levels of housing to fit a multitude of budgets, the lack of a a luxury hotel precluded those with money, and political influence, from visiting. Once completed, the Ahwahnee ensured that those with the power to affect decisions would visit and love the park like everyone else. The hotel turns 100 in 2027 and Joanna is already planning our visit; we are saving our empty aluminum cans for the funding to afford a room and hope to have enough by then. Care to join us?
We walked back over to Yosemite Village after the tour to hit the market there with the intent of buying one of the roast chickens we’d spotted a day or so before, but were disappointed to find none available that day. Undeterred we returned to Camp Curry, hit its smaller market and picked up a bag of Kale Caesar Salad and thinly sliced salami to which we would add some of the Tillamook Sharp Cheddar we’d purchased back in Angel’s Camp for a super salad, washed down by one of the bottles of wine we’d also brought along.
One other observation I’d make regarding this visit was the relatively reasonable cost of items in the markets and concession stands. Usually National Park concession pricing is at ball or theme park levels, often painful to contemplate. That wasn’t the case much at Yosemite, prices generally 5-10 percent more. We had brought much of what we thought we’d need with us anticipating higher prices; we could easily have purchased the items there and saved ourselves the trouble.
Finished with dinner, we took off for Yosemite Lodge and that night’s scheduled ranger talk in a meeting room adjacent to the Mountain Room Lounge. Whenever we can we attend these; indeed, some of my fondest memories from childhood camping with my parents are sitting outdoor in an amphitheater singing campfire songs prior to a ranger giving a slide show based talk about the park we were visiting. That night’s program was on Charley Harper, a Cincinnati-based American Modernist artist. Best known for his highly stylized wildlife prints, posters and book illustrations, he created a number of prints for the National Park Service and his 1990 piece, Sierra Range was the focal point of the program. It was a fascinating talk about an artist we’d not encountered before, whose “minimal realism” style captured the essence of his subjects with the fewest possible visual elements.
As we returned to Camp Curry the rain of the day had finally departed, presenting us with a clear star lit sky, breathtaking in its beauty. We arose the next morning for another breakfast, our morning routine fixed with a stop at Peet’s and an hour or so of work, then packed the car and drove south out of the valley and up to Glacier Point for our planned hike that day.
We’ve enjoyed portions of this trail in the past; Joanna and Tanya (our Thai foreign exchange student) did the whole hike down to the valley when we visited in 2004.
We weren’t in shape to do much more than four miles, nor could we hike just one way as the shuttles that you could normally utilize had ceased operation for the season. Instead we took any number of pictures from Glacier Point and the walked down the Panorama Trail a couple of miles before turning around and hiking back up to the trailhead, the car, and the drive back down to Camp Curry.
Our plan was to eat at one of the open restaurants that night and had originally thought we’d hit the Mountain Room. Knowing we’d be dining out with Jessica and Kris in Oakland later that week we opted to try the Yosemite Lodge Food Court, a new venue for us before taking in that night’s ranger talk. It’s a typical marche (market) type operation, with three food stations, two open for us; a grill and then an entrée station, whose main choices that night were cheese enchilada’s with beans and rice, which I selected while Joanna landed the trout.
The food was passable, not anything you’d go out of your way to eat, more like prepared camp food and with a beer and tea, the total came to $43 but we left satisfied with the experience. With a little time to kill before the ranger talk, we settled on a bench in the Lodge’s courtyard, starlit sky above us, and drank a big beer I’d purchased at the gift shop/market. At the appointed time we went over to the meeting room as before and enjoyed a very engaging presentation on rock climbing by a ranger whose abiding passion is that sport.
The formal part of the talk itself was short, so quick I wondered what we would do with the remaining 30 minutes or so of the allotted time. The ranger asked for questions though and sure enough, that easily killed the rest of the session. The question we all wanted to ask but couldn’t was finally raised as the last one, voiced by a child, that is “what do you do when you have to go to the bathroom?” The answer was plain and simple and much like in backpacking, it is “what you take up on the rock must come back down with you”.
A last shuttle ride brought us back to Camp Curry and our humble tent cabin, a good night’s sleep ahead of us and a drive back to Oakland the next day. Our time in the Valley was everything we could have hoped for; connecting with fond memories, vigorous exercise, commanding vistas, and peaceful contemplation. The only question we asked ourselves at the end was how soon until we return?
Ahwahnee Hotel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahwahnee_Hotel
Charley Harper: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charley_Harper