The Quintessential Yosemite in 24 hours

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

IMG_3287 I’ve visited California’s Yosemite National Park during all seasons, but I had never attempted to take in its splendor in a mere 24 hours. This year, the park celebrates its 125 birthday, so there seemed no time like the present to celebrate this unique national treasure.

With 1200 miles of park terrain to cover, a 24-hour visit had to be highly selective. Yosemite Valley is only a small part of Yosemite National Park, but it is the place to see the iconic Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and El Capitan.  Yosemite is best known for its waterfalls and granite cliffs, but expansive wild meadows and majestic ancient sequoias are equally wonderful.

The park offered a wide variety of housing—everything from rustic platform tents to a standard hotel or four-star elegance. The most upscale pick, of course, is the historic Ahwanee Hotel, located right in the park. While the lodging of choice for presidents and visiting royalty, it was a bit too expensive for our budget. Instead, we decided to stay at the other four-diamond choice, Tenaya Lodge, located right at the south gate to the park.

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Tenaya is a full service resort
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One of two swimming pools at Tenaya Lodge

Tenaya Lodge is a full service resort that would be a great vacation spot even without the splendor of the national park on its doorstep. The Ascent Spa, two swimming pools, well-appointed guest rooms and several restaurants provided a welcome respite after our drive from Los Angeles. After checking in, we were tempted to stretch out and take a quick nap. Instead, we needed to hustle to make our 3 p.m. open-air Valley Floor Tour led by a Yosemite Park Ranger (the last tour of the day). My 85-year-old Dad opted for the nap, but the rest of us pushed on. The drive to the valley floor redefines breathtaking.

On this quick trip, though, the two-hour narrated tour provided just the right overview of the history, geology, plant and animal life of the region, along with all of the scenic highlights. With just a little better  planning we could have seen Yosemite in the moonlight.

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Dining room at the Ahwanee
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The historic Ahwanee

The tour finished just in time for us to make our dinner reservation in the Ahwanee dining room. We wandered around the Ahwanee’s dramatic lobby with its magnificent log-beamed ceilings, massive stone hearths, and Native American artwork, and were quickly seated in the huge dining room, which featured a 34-foot-high beamed ceiling and a view through the floor to ceiling windows. Luckily, we were aware of the dress code for guests at dinner and were properly decked out in “resort casual.” The classic prime rib complete with Yorkshire pudding didn’t disappoint, and my daughter enjoyed her New York strip.

We made it back to Tenaya for a quick soak in the hot tub before turning in for the night. Breakfast came with our overnight package, so we headed for the buffet at the Lodge’s Sierra Restaurant. The buffet was ample and had all the usual entrees – scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausage, and pastries. The menu also offered a very tasty California Benedict, a Mexican twist on the breakfast classic.

Pondering a choice between a hike and a horseback ride, we drove into the park to the Wawona Hotel, another seasonal landmark hotel on the property and a perfect jumping-off point for exploration. The two-horseback ride over flat, even terrain seemed like it would work for me, even though I hadn’t seen the back of a horse in 40 years. Unfortunately, we lingered too long over our coffee and missed the first ride at 9 a.m. Instead, we decided to explore on foot. The Wawona Meadow Loop
was an easy, mostly level, three-mile hike that allowed us to see wildflowers, mule deer, and great gray owls. After our walk, we headed to wide porch of the Wawona Hotel, before heading into the Victorian-era dining room for a quick bite before hitting the road.

A mere 24 hours after our arrival, we had hit all the high notes of this marvelous national destination, and we left so much to see on another trip!