August 24 – September 6
We bade Jessica and Kris farewell Monday morning and hit the road for Yosemite on a now familiar route through the Central Valley onto Hwy. 120 and then uphill at Don Pedro Reservoir to the town of Priest.
With over one hundred curves and hairpin turns, this stretch of the road known as the “New Priest Grade”, is a 4% grade that opened in 1915 and was built by a group of local volunteers who desired an alternative to the very steep (17%) Old Priest Grade.
Topping off the Highlander’s tank in Groveland (no gas is available in Yosemite Valley) we arrived at the Housekeeping Camp right around check-in time and stood in line to get our unit. The friendly staff member noted that we were staying for four nights and offered to put us in Unit A233, just one row from the Merced River. We’d enjoy being near the water and reasonably close to the restrooms and our car, a nearly perfect location for our stay.
We set up camp and then hopped on our bikes to ride the short distance over to Curry Village, its original name having been restored after a nearly five-year dispute with the former concessionaire over the value of naming rights for the park. In 2015, DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite, a subsidiary of Delaware North, filed a lawsuit demanding more than $50 million in compensation for the rights to the park’s original iconic names (Ahwahnee Hotel, Wawona Hotel, Curry Village, and Badger Pass Ski Area).
When the Park Service refused to settle, the original signage was covered up but wasn’t removed, leading to some double takes when one viewed a clumsily constructed sign covering an old façade. The final settlement came to $12 million with $8.16 of it paid by Aramark, the park’s new concessionaire, and the remainder by the US government. Under the park service’s new agreement, the trademarks and service marks will transfer to Aramark during its contract and will return free of charge to the park service “upon the expiration or termination of Aramark’s contract,” according to a park service news release.
So, it was with delight that we rolled up to Curry Village to see that the ugly temporary sign had been taken down and the rightful name was now proudly and correctly displayed. We checked out the Mountain Shop for potential gear purchases and then hit the pizza stand for a pie and some cold beers. This is not world class pizza; the volume they are required to pump out likely calls for preformed crusts and simple preparation. But hey, it’s the pizza joint at a National Park and a nice selection of craft beer makes just about anything taste good.
We returned to the Housekeeping Camp for the evening, where one utilizes two separate bear lockers to store food and anything that might attract animals. The sleeping area, while enclosed on three sides, features a two large canvas flaps to provide some semblance of privacy when needed.
They don’t do much to keep out intruders though as we found out the first night when we awoke at 11pm to find a raccoon slinking in the unit. Joanna yelled at the thing and it scampered out, but would return each night making for somewhat uneasy sleep until we got used to the concept.
Our plan for the next day was to explore as much of the valley a we could by bicycle and so we started off late in the morning.
We rode out towards Happy Isles and the John Muir Trailhead, then up to Mirror Lake. A small, seasonal lake situated in Tanaya Canyon directly between North Dome and Half Dome, it is the last remnant of a large glacial lake that once filled most of Yosemite Valley at the end of the last Ice Age and is close to disappearing due sediment accumulation. I can recall past visits when I was young and it was large and when glass like, reflected the granite walls around it.
From there we cruised into Yosemite Village to check out the market, then out past the lodge to an area beneath El Capitan where a couple of volunteers, both rock climbers, had set up an information center complete with a telescope through which one could track the progress of a team of climbers on that famous granite tower.
On the way back to camp we stopped at the market at Curry Village to pick up some chicken sausage and some broccoli to add to a box of Macaroni and Cheese we’d brought with us. Later accompanied by a bottle of wine, we enjoyed our second meal in the valley and the ability to cook, a simple task not available to you if you stay in the tents at Curry. Except for that damn raccoon, it couldn’t get any better.
Housekeeping Camp: https://www.travelyosemite.com/lodging/housekeeping-camp/