February 25 – March 5, 2021
Breakfast in our rooms took us into the later morning and the four of us then took off in the Highlander to drive over to the Equestrian center where we parked and began a short hike to Mirror Lake. During the winter months the extensive shuttle system that operates in the valley is discontinued making driving, usually discouraged by the park, a necessity.
It was cool and gloomy day, just right for a layering up and walking and with my hiking poles helping me deal with lower back pain, we made our way on pavement and a dirt trail to the base of the lake. I stopped there while the other three hiked on a bit to get a better look at what remains of what is referred to as a lake, but is in reality just a small, seasonal lagoon. Located on Tenaya Creek in Tenaya 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 to sediment accumulation.
Once reunited, we walked back to the car and drove to Yosemite Village to park behind the complex there that houses the Market and Gift Shop, the Village Creek Grill (closed for the season) and a vacant storefront that used to house an outdoor gear store. We perused the offerings in the gift store, bought a couple of items and as usual, came away impressed, with the amount of goods available in the market and how reasonably priced they were given that theme park pricing usually prevails in the national parks.
Feeling a bit peckish by now we walked out the front of the market, turned right and made our way a short distance to the food service facility that houses Degnan’s Kitchen, Degnan’s Loft and an ice cream operation, the latter two closed for the season.
The kitchen operation features a sandwich, soup, and pizza station, a bakery with Peet’s Coffee along with numerous refrigerated cases and dry goods display with just about any option one could imagine.
Joanna and I split a very good Tuna Sandwich on Wheat bun, a bag of chips and a large drip coffee from the Peet’s Counter. It took a while for the coffee as there was only one person working, many of the items were custom made and a couple of folks in front of us had large, complicated orders. Finished with lunch, we drove back to the lodge for a quiet afternoon reading, writing and enjoying the simple beauty that surrounds you at all times in the park.
Later in the afternoon we gathered in Kim and Marty’s room for Happy Hour, gin and tonics to start, some wine to follow, snacks aplenty, a good start on filling the hole where hunger resides. Dinner that night would be a simple affair, that is drinks and appetizers that normally we would have enjoyed at the Mountain Room Lounge at the Lodge, but it is only open on the weekend, so off to the bar at the Ahwahnee Hotel we did go.
Many is the drink we’ve enjoyed there and tonight would be no exception, as we chose a table outside with a space heater to ward off the chill (seating was available inside but it seemed a better choice to be out on the patio). Marty and I opened with Manhattan’s and this version by this bartender was one of the best I’ve enjoyed. We’d go through two more rounds of drinks, switching to an Old Fashioned (good but not as good) and back to a Manhattan (a different bartender this time and thus, a different outcome.
Along the way we shared the Sesame Honey Glazed Turkey Meatballs (with Asian Cucumber Salad and Steamed Jasmine Rice) and a Bavarian Pretzel (Chive Cream Cheese Spread and Grainy Beer Mustard) and we finished with an order of the Ahwahnee Boysenberry Pie (Boysenberry Compote & Fresh Mixed Berries topped with whipped cream). All aboard left the hotel that night with a warm glow, the day’s activities, food and drink taking us to that place humans like so much. It was a very good place to be.
The next day, our last in the park called for, by our standards, a more aggressive hike of five miles or so from the Lodge out to El Capitan. Like the one the day before, this would be an out and back so that I could judge how far I could go before turning around.
And history would repeat itself when a little over two miles out, discomfort forced me to stop and have the others go on ahead. I hung out for some time before deciding to head back to the lodge, thinking the others might catch up with me on the way.
That would not be the case and I’d been back at our room for a bit when Joanna texted me that they were a mile or so out and would I meet them for lunch over at the Basecamp Eatery? I walked over and waited, sitting in the sun outside, a nice place to be on an early March day. They soon arrived and Joanna and I ordered a pepperoni pizza and a bread pudding to split along with a beer apiece.
We sat at a table for four outside and enjoyed a passable lunch, the pizza not the best or the worst we’ve experienced, the bread pudding the clear winner. Finished with lunch we returned to our rooms for another afternoon of hanging out and relaxing, followed by our happy hour ritual and then the short drive over to the Ahwahnee for our final meal in the park.
Due to the pandemic, there wasn’t any wait service, and all food was served on a take-out basis, but one could sit in the dining room if space was available and as we’d come over early, we nabbed a table in an alcove at one end of the room. Joanna and I would split a Mary’s Roasted Half Chicken (with Marsala Jus, Caramelized Cipollini Onions, Grimmway Carrots & Parsnips, and Creamy Mascarpone Polenta) and a piece of the Caramel Pecan Cheesecake (Italian Cream Cheese, Topped with Spiced Candied Pecans, and Caramel Sauce) which we would end up taking with us as our dinner portions were substantial enough to fill us.
Given that everything was packaged in to-go containers we were pleasantly surprised with the quantity and quality of the food. Along with a couple of glasses of good wine (one from Andrew Murray in Los Olivos, where we are club members) the setting worked its magic and we had as good a meal as if we’d been served by waitstaff. We finished the evening as usual, playing cards in Kim and Marty’s room until bedtime.
We left mid-morning for the drive home the next day with plans to stop in Oakhurst, a 90-minute drive, for breakfast before the remaining four plus hour drive home to Los Angeles. Since our last stop here in 2019, our first choice Bread Head Kitchen was permanently closed, as was Katie’s Country Kitchen, another long-time option. We ended up at Pete’s Place by happenstance, as we couldn’t easily locate our first choice, the Cool Bean Café.
Joanna and I would split a veggie scramble and order of pancakes, enough food to feed a family of six and although a bit on the expensive side, it was nicely prepared and worth the tab. The drive home went smoothly and would end our travels for a month or so, staying home to ride our bikes and prepare for a week-long visit at our place with Jessica, Kris and Baby G. We’d been pleasantly shocked at how empty Yosemite had been and much it improved our experience, normal crowds making it worse than a theme park on a summer day. Future visits will keep this in mind and likely focus on out of season stays. But one thing is for sure: we’ll be back.
Pete’s Place: https://www.yelp.com/biz/petes-place-oakhurst