Sunday, September 12, 2010

Yo Yosemite

A primary goal this summer: be in southeastern AZ by mid-August to maximize seeing hummers before they moved south. The awning issue had put us about three weeks behind schedule. Add to that: California is a very long state and that it was a good 530 miles to Yosemite NP - we had to scoot.
From Klamath we drove over 200 miles to Redwood Valley where we parked free for a night in the Coyote Valley Casino parking lot (didn't cost us a cent nor did we lose any gambling) . Off early to Grass Valley. 153 miles later we over-nighted in the Nevada Fairgrounds RV Park (thankfully just missed the end of their county fair). An early start once more, we shot for the postage-stamp sized town of Greeley Hill, (technically the Coulterville-Greeley Hill district) 166 miles away.
The drive from Grass Valley, while scenic, was not relaxing. Folks had told us that Hwy 49 was scenic. Indeed it was. They also said there were "lots of curves". Yes, indeed, there were. However, they failed to mention just how tight and narrow those curves would be and of the countless abrupt changes in elevation. We have now marked the route as a "been there done that" but not to be repeated. Gigi, our GPS, had tried without success to get us onto a route that appeared to take us way out of our way through Sacramento. Now we understood why. Well, it was scenic...
Yosemite Westlake RV, near Greeley Hill, our next destination, was a Passport America park. The discount rate for full-hook was cheap: $17/night. A small park with lots of trees (read: mind where you drive) and not suited to handle many big rigs. Not that we are a big rig but it was still tight. Gravel roads and sites were not the most level but the park was quiet. The on-site owners were very pleasant and helpful. Alas, the park was one of those rare sites where we lacked a Verizon signal. The park also lacked wi-fi. We would be offline for a few days. But, the park was just a 30-minute drive from Yosemite. Location, location, location.

El Capitan

We entered Yosemite through the Big Oak Flat entrance. We breezed through the gate after collecting our map and a park newsletter and headed straight for "Yosemite Valley" where El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls were to be seen. Anyone who has ever admired the work of Ansel Adams has probably always wanted to see both of these icons of Americana in person.

hotel for breakfast

Early morning, while good for beating the crowds, didn't present very good light for photos. Just one more excuse for having breakfast at the Awahnee Hotel while the light improved It didn't take much to convince us. The hotel was another one of those architectural wonders found in national parks. This one did not disappoint - either in appearance or menu offerings.

scenery on way into park entrance

Carol's knee, still a feeling a bit punk, prevented any long hikes. Near the visitor center was the Ansel Adams Art Studio, filled with his works as well as art from several local artists. An opportunity to see some of Adams's original work up close. There was an authorized reprint of an Adams portrait of Arthur Stieglitz standing in front of a Georgia O'Keefe painting (O'keeke and Stieglitz were married and good friends of Ansel's). Note to Graham: We were just about ready to fork over the $15,000 asking price for the photo for you, but, quickly realized that the same amount would completely cover a three-week birding trip for us to Australia and Tasmania. Sorry. We love you dearly but...
A volunteer at an outside "information" kiosk, upon hearing our failed attempt to get to a park ranger in the visitor center to ask a question about birds, enthusiastically took us under wing, marched us back into the visitor center, and had us wait while she strolled behind the desk and whispered in the ranger's ear, "Where do people find Black Swifts in the park?". He whispered back, "They've last been seen at Bridalveil". The volunteer then took us over to the Native American building where an elderly Native American woman was busy weaving a basket. The volunteer sat down beside the weaver and posed the same question. The woman had no idea but was eager to learn about Black Swifts.  It turned out to be Julia Parker, world-renowned for her basket weaving. And what a delightful person she turned out to be! Another one of those serendipitous experiences we've encountered in our travels across America.

base at Bridalveil Falls

On our way out of the Valley we stopped again for more looks up at El Capitan. Still no ants were seen today (watch for ants climbing up the wall we were told). We managed a short hike up to the base of Bridalveil Falls. No Black Swifts but plenty of tourists. We enjoyed watching them watch the falls, more so than the falls themselves.

 Hetch Hetchy reservoir, dam, old train tunnel,
and water pressure relief (power generator)

Warned about frustrating road construction on the road to Glacier Point we opted instead to search out Hetch Hetchy Valley and the O'Shaughnessy Dam. The dam was indeed impressive and so too the canyon walls. We walked across the dam, through a long tunnel and parked ourselves along the reservoir to eat our packed lunch. A nearby posted sign read something to the effect that we should respect the property as it was a sacred Native American historic site. The Paiute People summered and hunted in the canyon. We mused just how their forefathers would feel about their native hunting grounds being flooded so that water could be diverted to supply west coast golf courses with water...yet we needed to "respect" the area? Or what was left of it.
On our way back to the RV park we stopped in Greeley Hill for gas ($3.19/gal compared to over $4/gal being sold in and around Yosemite). The Greeley Hill Market turned out to be a remarkable find - it had some of the best fresh vegetables yet, and the store was neat as a pin. Back at the RV park, Malcolm, the owner, mentioned that "we had missed all the excitement". Excitement? Yes, less than a mile away a fire had burned 75-acres. The cause: a spark from grass cutting equipment. Imagine our delight if we had to returned home to find our home reduced to charred remains? (Mental note: another reason not to mow grass - fire prevention).
Malcolm also mentioned that one of the park models in the park was inundated with hummingbirds. That was no exaggeration. Dozens of feeders at the home of a woman named "Cookie" were filled with dozens of hummers. Cookie kindly invited us to sit on her porch and enjoy the spectacle for a spell, often with hummingbird blazing past our heads as they jockeyed for feeders.

Half Dome - we could see hikers going up through our scope

 Carol sitting next to Full Dome
(Half Dome in the background)

lunch along Tioga Lake just outside the east entrance to Yosemite

The next morning we were packed up and on our way, headed out of the park toward eastern California and Lee Vining. Our route took us over Tioga Pass which topped out at nearly 10,000 feet. Early going on the pass was a bit bumpy but later smoothed out. Max speed was 45mph but you wouldn't know it with so many people whistling past. Aren't they on vacation? Not many places to pull over but we did find a few that paid off in bird dividends. Finally caught up with a male Black-backed Woodpecker and at a second stop, a male Mountain Quail perched atop a rock. The quail was a life bird for both of us! yet another pull-out to view Half Dome, a popular hike up sheer walls with the aid of a cable. Graham and Rachel take note.
The west side of Tioga was a gradual slope up to the summit but from the summit down to Hwy 396, the drop was much more dramatic. An exciting "brake-neck" speed experience. Next up: Lee Vining and Mono Lake.

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