2019 Yosemite Trip diary: September 11 - 15

    Monday, September 11
Leave Oakland 11 AM; 73 degrees F.
Through Escalon, a pleasant farming town; highway runs under twin colonnades of old trees.
Reach Oakdale ("Cowboy Capital of the World", had no idea) in the Central Valley around 12:45. Temp is 92 degrees.
Lunch at Cahoots, our new fave there. Will give Snow White Drive-in a rest in hopes they get their act together.
Last time, they didn't how how to make a milkshake.
Cahoots has big portions and fairly funny wall posters ("We promise fast service, no matter how long it takes").
Also a US map made of each state's license plate cut to shape.
Have cheese omelet and hash browns.
In the restroom is a poster that advises "Keep calm and carry".
Leave Oakdale 1:30; pass the "Lazy Me" ranch; sounds like my kind of place.
East into foothills and oak savanna country.
At Chinese Camp pass old brick Wells Fargo Express building; is in good shape.
Take Old Priest Grade road; steeper but shorter than new road. 100 degrees at foot, 95 at top.
Continue to ascend to Groveland, 91 degrees.
Note to [scatts]; Rush Creek Lodge is finally done, you can come back.
Stop at Crane Flat (78 degrees) for gas and Clif Shot Blox; this is where we discovered them, have become big fans since.
Reach The Hotel Formerly Known As Ahwahnee at 4 PM, about 4 hours driving time.
Someone has cancelled out for dinner so they are able to fit us in.
Room has big-screen TV in it. Really, how many people come to Yosemite Valley to watch TV?
On second thought, I don't want to know.
Excellent dinner. And I take almost as many photos of the dining hall as all else today.
Booming thunder overhead about 9 PM; glad to be back in our room.
Followed by pouring rain; doubly glad.

    Tuesday, September 12
Get up early to see if dawn light on cliffs; dawn comes late to the valley.
Go to hotel, photograph empty Great Hall; get some coffee.
Pass several young adults in lobby with bulging calves, large daypacks, and cups of coffee heading out to climb something.
Much German is spoken among them.
Hike up to Mirror Lake.
Air so filled with gnats and other flying insects after last night's rain that there are actually fewer inside the outhouse, possibly a world's first.
We see everyone doing what we call the "Yosemite wave":
  1. pass one hand rapidly in front of face;
  2. repeat until back indoors.
Start to return by Valley Loop Trail. Big mistake. Slippery with wet sand on round rocks, and even more bugs than before.
Backtrack to main (paved) trail beside Tenaya Creek.
Once back at cottage, apply more bug repellent.
Go to hotel for lunch while bugs around us fall coughing onto the trail.
Pack for afternoon hike, take shuttles to El Capitan Meadow.
The word "awesome" is much overused these days, but the massive hunk of granite known as El Capitan deserves it.
Climber docents have telescopes to view ant-like figures ascending the sheer 3000-foot wall.
Walk west beside road (kind of dangerous, really; a path for walkers would be useful) to view Bridalveil Falls from across the Merced River.
Then back to Yosemite Village for some supplies, then the hotel and put feet up. Ahh...
Dinner in hotel bar (dining room fully booked); margherita pizza and beer.
Early to bed.

    Wednesday, September 13
Our cottage (built 1928, just after Ahwahnee Hotel) has refrigerator but no kitchenette as we expected.
Still, we decide to breakfast in rather than face delays in dining room or limited selection (mostly sugary things) at snack bar.
Room self-service, as it were.
Joan gets scones, yogurt, home-made granola cups out of fridge.
I put scones on always-on warm TV controller to heat (at last a use for the thing) and go to hotel for free coffee service.
Take a half-cup of milk and 3 coffees in holder back to cottage; have granola parfait, scones, coffee, grapes.
Loll about for a bit (moving slowly after yesterday's marathons), then head out to trails.
We walk a couple miles (could have taken free shuttle, but the day is young) to Happy Isles and base of trail to Vernal Falls.
Besides being "Yosemite's most popular trail" (as evidenced by the hundreds of people we see), this is also the start of the John Muir Trail.
The sign says it ends at the summit of Mt. Whitney 211 miles away, but that is farther than we want to walk today.
But we do make it up to Vernal Falls!
Had planned to stop at bridge over Merced River with view of it, but decide to go "a little farther" up the steeper trail beyond; and after a while find ourselves at the falls.
Sense of triumph; we made it, Mt. Whitney can wait.
Return to Happy Isles. "No one can visit them without for a while forgetting
the grinding strife of the world and be happy." (1885 quote)
Joan takes bus back to hotel, I decide to wander about some more. After resting on bench for 5 minutes, I'm ready to go again.
At least on the level trails of the isles; no more thousand-foot climbs today, I think.
Area is quite pleasant and the opposite of Vernal Trail; I meet 3 people in half an hour of strolling about.
Am visiting the "fen" when rain begins; dash to bus stop, take shuttle around to Sentinel Bridge.
Great view of Half Dome above Merced River , and nearby another of Yosemite Falls above the meadow.
Done with that when rain returns; dash once more under trees to bus stop and ride back to hotel.
Must buy poncho.
The Ahwahnee - er, Majestic - dining room is a magnificent space.
Though often full booked for months in advance (as we found out), when you get there you can request a reservation; we got 3 out of the 4 we wanted, at convenient times.
Joan reminds me I have eaten nothing but a Clif bar since breakfast; I make up for it at dinner.
Caesar salad, sea bass, boysenberry pie, and coffee. Mmm.. (Did not have their signature cocktail, the "El Capitini".)
Waddle back to room for the night.

    Thursday, September 14
Breakfast in room again. Hotel runs out of guest-service coffee (they did that last time we were here), but I got just enough for us before the urn goes dry.
Go outside, take some early-morning views of Yosemite Falls
Pass a gentleman who looks just like John Muir. It turns out that he does shows in the Visitor Center as JM himself.
I mention that I saw another man at the Martinez home of JM, and he says yes there are others but he was the first.
I say "So then you are the real impostor?" Get big laugh. Have always wanted to use that Tom Stoppard line.
Take shuttle bus to base of falls, walk loop trail. Every ten steps or so presents a new perspective, all of them dramatic.
There are three falls : Upper, Lower, and (ta-da) Middle Falls between them. Since the slope is a series of shelves, at any spot you may see one, two, or all three.
Take several dozen shots, will do triage when back home.
Walk through Cook's Meadow, old site of Yosemite Village, across Merced River to Sentinel Bridge.
Cooke's Hotel was old 19th C lodging; when bought by a new owner, a Mr. Cook, he used the old sign to save money.
Meadow was subject to continual flooding in winter, and used for a garbage dump; several years ago the commercial operations were moved north to higher ground, the trash removed, and the marshy meadow restored. Big improvement.
Lunch at Ahwahnee dining room informal, quite different from dinnertime. Also the room is brightly sunlit.
Have a Cobb salad and coffee, to keep going in the afternoon.
Will do no more big hikes, I think, but instead enjoy the civilized pleasures of this premiere hotel like tea in the Great Hall at four PM.
Wander about the grounds for a while - find an abandoned tennis court - then return to cottage and change for tea. Take it in the solarium room at the south end of the hotel, just as tour guide leads a group through to describe the hotel history.
Very interesting; we follow him to end of tour in Mural Room , cups and saucers in hand.
Many writing desks there and in Great Hall; founder Stephen Mather encouraged letter writing by guests, provided stationery, etc.
Wanted them to tell friends of their Yosemite experiences, get them to come. Was all too successful...
Dinner in magnificent Ahwahnee dining room. Copy down ingredients for an El Capitini:
    - vodka, Cointreau, pomegranate, and pineapple juice.
Don't plan to make one, though.
A very good vacation, about the right length: 4 nights, 3 full days in the valley.
554 photos so far; some of them are bound to be acceptable, no?
(Plus one of my shoes by mistake, not counting that one.)
Had expected this second trip to be enough for seeing the valley, but not so sure now.
The novelty has worn off, OK, but it has been such a pleasure to stand and walk around in the midst of so many natural wonders...

    Friday, September 15
Look around cottage at all our stuff scattered everywhere - by us.
Wonder how we will get packed and out of here today.
But we manage, after a couple hours with a pause to finish last scone warmed on TV controller (what a versatile device).
Check out and leave at 10:30.
Very smoky all through Yosemite Valley; has recent lightning storm started a new fire? Will they rename Glacier Point Old Smokey?
(Later: map says no, the Empire, South Fork, and Railroad fires are not growing; maybe the wind has just shifted.)
Reach Oakdale 1 PM, have mammoth helping of eggs and potatoes, I actually leave some on the plate. Leave town 1:40.
Some curious signs in the area:
   - "Snow White Drive-in under new owner" just like last year; is this a new new owner or the old new owner?
(Drive past it, don't see anyone eating there, a bad indication)
    - "Custom backhoe and trenching service"; is there any other kind?
    - In Escalon, a facelift parlor offers a new-customer discount; but you have to pay full price for a second op?
    - The "Mood and Food" liquor and grocery store sums it up nicely.
    - In Tracy a factory makes "Baby barriers"; diaphragms perhaps?
Traffic is surprisingly light (going our direction, stop & go the other way) and we are home by 3:30.

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