Pop star Katy Perry may have kissed a girl, but I saw a bear in Yosemite National Park. Which, depending on who you talk to, is a rare thing. Especially considering that there are only an estimated 300-500 black bears in the park.
Plus, it was on our very first day EVER in the park.
I’ve globe trotted to numerous countries around the world, but never visited the park in my home state that attracts 4 million visitors annually. Nor had my mother, a second generation Californian.
“Too bad this will be your first experience in wonderful Yosemite!” my friend and neighbor Fran says to me. She had been numerous times and had just returned from she and her husband Roger’s 50th wedding anniversary celebration there. “It was heart-breaking to see Yosemite so stressed. Not a drop of water in the falls. Maybe some in Nevada and Vernel falls, which you have to hike to, but worth it just to see some water, I guess,” she laments.
My 85-year-old mother was not inclined to hike to any falls in debilitating altitude: her idea of exercise is sitting cross-legged and doing a crossword puzzle.
En route to the Sierras, the first thing we notice was how literally parched our “golden state” was. Even climbing the southern Sierras to elevation 5,000 feet, there were more brown, dying trees than evergreen. Yohhe’meti refers to the Native American tribe that lived in the Yosemite and literally means “those who kill.” About 50% of the forest is dying thanks to the historic drought (the worst in 1,000 years) and a beetle that is attacking the trees. History repeats itself.
Still, the view was awesome.
We booked a very comfortable room at the upscale Tenaya Lodge in Fish Camp, a bit outside of the park, but also made reservations for the highly touted Sunday brunch at the historic Ahwahnee Hotel in the park.
The famous scenery was as gorgeous as expected—and then some: We called it the Church of Yosemite on our Sunday outing. We first stopped at the charming, historic Wawona Hotel and the Visitor Center, the former art studio of Thomas Hill, who along with Thomas Moran’s paintings (the artist lived in Santa Barbara) helped convince Congress to preserve our amazing natural heritage. Then we continued to the tunnel that reveals the famous view of the valley. Onward to the fantastic Sunday brunch at the Ahwahnee (seafood bar, carving station, salads, desserts and more) and stunning painting and artifacts exhibits at the Yosemite Museum and another visitor center. I came across a Catholic priest who had temporarily turned the Yosemite Park Theater into “Our Lady of the Snow” and spoke to his flock about his upcoming plans to scale one of the parks glacial walls.
Our enthusiastic National Park Service Tour Guide Brandon Adams’ passion for the park infused the open air “green dragon” two hour Valley Floor tour that looped through the park. Adams (his first year as a guide), who scales the famous granite faces El Capitan, regaled us with his cliff hanging adventures as well as poetry (his own!) and quotes from early explorers.
On our way out of the park, we drove up to Glacier Point where the views were recommended. My mom was too tired to walk out to the point, but I noticed other tourists with cameras moving along the roadway. They had sighted a small bear cub maybe 100 feet down the hill.
“Get out of the car,” I tapped on my mom’s window, “You may not want to walk out to the point, but come just here—now—there’s a bear nearby!”
She stepped out of the car, and her comfort zone and yes, got a glimpse of a darling bear scrambling down the hill.
It made our day.
All we have to do now, is pray for rain and hopefully we can return and gawk at Yosemite Falls.
Where to stay: Tenaya Lodge—Upscale hotel with newly renovated rooms and suites or cottages, five restaurants (pizza/pub in summer), five pools (indoor, outdoor, kids pool, adult only pool and Jacuzzis), outstanding staff, activities and spa with steam/sauna (great for a massage after long drive or hiking). Located three miles to the park entrance and a bit over an hour to the Awanhee Hotel and park center with museums, shops, etc.
Tenaya Lodge, 1122 CA-41, Fish Camp, CA 93623; phone: 888/514-2167, www.TenayaLodge.com
The Yosemite Museum with changing exhibits. Saw a terrific exhibit of historic paintings and Native American artifacts.
Sunday brunch at Ahwahnee Hotel – $49/adult Reservations online www.yosemitepark.com or phone 209/372-1489.
Valley Floor Tour. For more about the park, hotels within Yosemite National Park, the Valley Tour, and additional information, visit www.yosemitepark.com.