February 25 – March 5, 2021
On Tuesday Kim, Marty, Joanna and I took off for Yosemite, but with a check in time of 5pm there was no hurry to get out of Oakland. The drive would take us roughly four hours as we decided to try out a new route this time, taking Highway 140 out of Merced through Mariposa. This would eliminate the twisting switchback ascent on Highway 120 between Moccasin and Groveland.
Unsure of our food options in Yosemite, we decided it would be best to eat a hearty meal in Merced before heading westward to the park and so after some online sleuthing, Joanna found us a bonus stop in the middle of downtown at J & R Tacos on Main Street. We’d arrived a few minutes before they opened, which gave us a chance to review the menus that were mounted on each of the outdoor tables in front of the restaurant.
Joanna and I split the Super Combo Plate, featuring a beef soft taco, Chili Relleno, Tamale, Rice and Beans. She had a draft beer to drink while I opted for a Coke as I’d be driving the rest of the way. This was fine food, the chili relleno a highlight from beginning to end, the stem removed so that you could eat all of it. Finished, we hit the road and drove to Mariposa where we stopped to provision at the local supermarket, and soon thereafter wound our way through miles of a Merced River carved canyon to the park, a passage like none other we’ve done before. As this route follows the river, there is no long climb to the park entrance and then descent into the valley as with the other routes in and out.
There was quite a bit of construction going on as we entered the park, primarily a new pipe being installed on the road in, obstructing traffic a bit but with the one downside that they were using the parking lot at Bridal Veil Falls for lay-down and thus the area was closed. We motored on, arriving at Yosemite Lodge where we’d stay for the next three nights.
We were taking advantage of a promotion that featured one free night of lodging for each two purchased, bringing the nightly rate down to a National Park reasonable $150 instead of north of $220. Of my many, perhaps more than 30, visits to the park, this would be the first time I’d stayed at the Lodge, so we were eager to experience that option.
Check-in went smoothly and we secured rooms in the same building and floor as Kim and Marty. We’d originally reserved a room with a queen bed and Kim and Marty one with a King but in order to get into the same building together we needed to take one with two double beds, a worthwhile trade for the convenience it brought. It did make for crowded conditions in our room though, so we’d ended up socializing in Kim and Marty’s, an acceptable solution for all involved.
After unpacking and getting set up, we used the last waning hours of daylight to walk the half mile to the Lower Yosemite Falls Vista Point. How many times have we taken in this view, during high and low water, in summer, spring and winter? Too many to recount and yet each time regardless of the water level one is reminded of the power of nature.
We returned to the Lodge and made our way to the only open food facility there, the Base Camp Eatery. Being the low season for the park and coupled with the pandemic, services in the park were sharply curtailed. Prior to our arrival, we weren’t sure how robust our eating options would be and would end up pleasantly surprised at the variety and quality of what was offered under trying conditions. The National Park Service changed the concessionaire here in 2016, from Delaware North to Aramark and when we last visited in 2018, signage was being changed back to original names (the Ahwahnee Hotel from Majestic Yosemite Hotel and Curry Village restored from Half Dome Village) and after getting a harsh review in 2019, Aramark stepped up and improved services throughout the park.
The Base Camp Eatery, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, is a cafeteria style operation with a standard line up of burgers and other grill items along with entrees and sides that change each day. Main courses came with a couple sides and were reasonably priced at well under $20 and included options like Teriyaki Chicken and other proteins prepared imaginatively. Not starving after our lunch at J&R, Joanna and I split a bowl of Turkey Soup a Green Salad and had a beer local IPA apiece. The soup was odd; not bad but essentially nothing but shreds of Turkey in some broth and a few rare bits of celery and carrot.
It was enough to satisfy us at the end of a long day of travel and so we returned to our building and spent the rest of the evening in Kim and Marty’s room with a couple of rounds of Gin and Tonics, a few hands of Cribbage and lively conversation. Par for the course with the four of us and always a time to treasure. We’d do some hiking the next day, so we knocked off early and slept well our first night at the Lodge.
J & R Tacos: https://jandrtacos.com/
Yosemite Service Improvement: https://www.sfchronicle.com/environment/article/Yosemite-s-review-of-park-concessionaire-14396133.php