August 24 – September 6
As planned, we left late in the morning for the drive up to Tioga Pass and Tuolumne Meadows. The road is only open for a limited time each year due to heavy snow and is generally not accessible until late June or early July. We’ve driven this way a few times, usually to get to Hwy 395 at Lee Vining and then to turn south towards Death Valley and other places of interest.
In 1985 I did two backpacking trips from Tuolumne Meadows down to the Valley floor, the first with Rendy and then repeating it with Joanna. It took about four days of hiking and with Joanna we were able to camp below Half Dome and make our first ascent to the top using the two metal cables that allow hikers to climb the last 400 feet to the summit without rock climbing equipment.
No backpacking for us on this day trip, instead we parked just past the Visitor Center and walked the short distance out to Parsons Lodge, McCauley Cabin, and Soda Springs. The Parsons Memorial Lodge is one of the earliest structures built of stone in a national park and it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.
It is a small building built in 1915 by the Sierra Club as a memorial to Edward Taylor Parsons, a New Yorker who joined the Sierra Club about 1900, and who eventually became the club’s director from 1905 to 1914. He was heavily involved in the losing fight against the flooding of the Hetch Hetchy Valley to provide a municipal water source for San Francisco.
We stopped in at the Lodge and checked out the exhibits, then walked to nearby Soda Springs, mineral springs that John Muir visited in 1869. In 1885 John Baptiste Lembert made a seasonal homestead at there, also filing a claim under the Homestead Act.
In 1898, John McCauley used his homestead there as a seasonal pasture for his livestock. Smelling strongly obviously, of Sulphur, the water while drinkable is very unpleasant to behold.
We returned to camp for a simple dinner, nothing memorable enough to record as we looked forward to the next day’s activities, a hike up Yosemite Falls for Joanna and a camera class for me. With the session scheduled for 1:00pm we dawdled in camp until just before noon and then hiked to Yosemite Village where we had a very good Turkey Burger at the sandwich shop (making up for the mediocre pizza earlier in the visit) and then killed time at the Visitor Center.
Each visit here sees us stop at the Yosemite Conservancy Donor wall to check out the plague we funded in memory of my Mother, whose love of Yosemite rests in my DNA.
We walked next door to the Ansel Adams Gallery waiting for my start time, engaging a young man who was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and then Joanna took off for her hike and I met up with Dillon, one of the gallery’s staff photographers for my Using Your Digital Camera class. As luck would have it, I was the only one signed up and so, Dillon suggested that instead of walking we hike back to get my car and use it to move around the valley, dramatically multiplying the spots we could shoot from.
Our first stop was a secluded beach not far from Yosemite Lodge with views of Half Dome defined by the river winding through the bottom of the shot.
We drove west towards the exit of the park, where he would continue to show me spots not far from the road that offered a pristine setting, places I’d not visited once during any of my 30-plus trips to the Valley. The first provided a good setting to shoot the Three Brothers and then a fantastic view of the valley, Half Dome barely lurking behind El Capitan and the Three Brothers.
One stop of interest was Fern Spring, whose cold flowing water was a delight to drink; Joanna and I would stop on the way out of the park the next day to fill as many empty bottles as we could.
We made the turn at the junction for Hwy 41 (the road we’d take towards home) and found a spot where I could get some nice shots of Bridal Veil Falls.
Our final stop was to catch El Capitan and the Three Brothers, where the setting sun offered a nice opportunity for contrast. We played around with different settings, enabling me to get to know the camera better, taking me back to the photo classes I’d taken in the early 1980’s where the good habits I’d learned got thrown by the wayside with the allure of the auto setting on the camera.
I was able to get a nice picture of El Capitan reflected in the shallow of the river.
Then Dillon offered to switch lens with me, giving me a chance to shoot some close-up shots of a family of ducks swimming, eating, and grooming near our location. We finished up at Yosemite Lodge where I parked the car and while walking to the Mountain Room Lounge there serendipitously ran into Joanna who was returning from her hike.
We entered this well-known Yosemite drinking establishment, crowded with people watching playoff baseball or pre-season football and sat at the bar to enjoy a couple of drinks, for Joanna a local Weissbier and for me, the Fred Collins Fizz (Bullet Rye Bourbon, Orange Curacao, Lemonade and Fever Tree Club Soda), totally unique and refreshing.
We split three Bavarian Pretzel Sticks with smoked gouda cheese sauce and an IPA honey mustard to get us ready for dinner and take the edge of the drinks.
It put us in a good mood for dinner next door at the Mountain Room where we’d not eaten in over 20 years. Along with a nice bottle of Pinot Noir, Joanna demolished (hiking most of the way up the falls provokes a powerful hunger) her Campfire Trout (skin on orange tinged trout with roasted creamer potatoes, asparagus and smoked lemon) and I the Kurobuta Pork Chop, a grilled 14-oz bone in monster served with Delmonico potatoes and Poblano bacon jam.
It was nice a dining experience as we’d have recently, particularly considering it was in a national park where food offerings are often overpriced and underdelivered. Our tab came to $131 with the tip, typically what one might pay for a nice dining experience accompanied by a bottle of wine in any town.
That night our camp neighbors, a man in his early 30’s who mentioned his occupation as being a helicopter pilot, and who we got into a not heated but bordering on getting there discussion about gun ownership (can you guess which side of the equation we might have landed on?) got into a hellacious argument with his much younger girlfriend. It became so heated that Joanna considered speaking to her the next morning to advise that there were ways for her to get home alone if she needed to.
We broke camp early though and didn’t encounter either one, clearing the valley by late morning to stop in Oakhurst for an outstanding breakfast at a new restaurant there, Bread Head Kitchen. Here is the review I wrote for Trip Advisor:
My wife and I stopped in on the way home from Yosemite encouraged by the good reviews. We were not disappointed. She had the French Toast with blueberries and delicious lemon curd and I a veggie omelet cooked perfectly and the best roasted potatoes I’ve ever eaten, crisp exterior, soft interior, redolent of the garlic and peppers they were cooked in. Friendly service adds a nice note to the meal.
About four hours later we arrived home, along the way encountering heavy traffic as we hit Santa Clarita unlike our trip down in August. This would likely be a pattern for us, never really knowing what driving conditions would be like as got close to Los Angeles. It had been a great couple of weeks, jump starting a fall of travel to make up for a spring consumed with moving. We had much to look forward to and were eager to get there. But more fun would occur in between as you will soon see.
Half Dome Hike: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/halfdome.htm
Ansel Adams Gallery: http://anseladams.com/
Pacific Crest Trail: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_Crest_Trail
Using Your Digital Camera: https://shop.anseladams.com/Using_Your_Digital_Cameras_p/320100-udc.htm
Bread Head Kitchen: https://www.breadheadrestaurant.com/