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A birthday weekend trip.
I was flabbergasted. I saw it as I was going over the check the waitress dropped off after our dinner at Rodz Grill in Angels Camp on highway 49 in California’s Mother Lode. This was the eve of my birthday. The Lady had a three day weekend because of Veteran’s Day and wanted us to celebrate my birthday in Yosemite. The last time I chose a destination for my birthday trip was when I turned 50. I figured Death Valley was a perfect place to go when you hit the half century mark. The Lady puts up with my sense of humor but also tries to keep it under control.
We had hit the road late Thursday afternoon after work. The Lady was anxious to get away and the Bureau of Reclamation’s Manzanita Campground above New Melones Reservoir makes for an easy stop and camp spot when you are traveling through this area. This was our destination for the night and would give us a full day Friday in the park. We figured we’d stop for a quick road house dinner. That brings us to that dinner check.
“Look at this!” I said holding my finger to a line above the total.
“That’s funny! Did you ask for that?” The Lady was smiling and then her eyes narrowed. “Is this one of your jokes? Did you set this up as a birthday joke?”
“I had nothing to do with this. I never asked for it nor did the waitress ever mention it,” I answered.
I continued, “Can you believe this?” My finger still pointed at the line that said “15% senior discount”.
I shook my head. “I don’t know where that came from. I have never asked for or gotten a senior discount anywhere. I'm not that old!”
We went up to the register and paid our bill. As we were walking out the Lady said to me, “You didn’t say anything to her.”
“No I didn’t. I thought about it and figured we were getting a 15% discount; you too.”
We were the only ones in Manzanita Campground that night. The geese are loud. We got up early and headed for the park as the clouds thickened and lowered. This was our first view of the Valley.
We had reservations for Upper Pines Campground – the only Valley campground open all year - for Friday and Saturday nights. We were allowed to check in early and the place was nearly empty.
On our way in we had stopped at Bridalveil Fall.
The weather continued with drizzle and rain. We wandered around the Valley in our rain gear with our packs and found ourselves outside the famous Ahwahnee.
We went in.
This is a grand place and on this rainy day many folks were taking advantage of just hanging out inside. We had to stop by one of the Ted’s favorite spots.
Well, since we were there and it was my birthday, it seemed just right to stay for lunch.
It would be about a 30 minute or so wait for a table. The Lady found a nice out of the way spot to cozy up with a book and I quietly moved about and had fun trying some handheld photography in the low light.
There was a private wedding lunch and reception in a closed off section of the main floor. As I was quietly enjoying taking my photos two young women in nice go to wedding dresses walked by. I lowered my camera from my eye and one of the girls grabbed me by the arm, pulled at me and excitedly started to say things to me which I had trouble understanding. It was a bit unnerving and I was trying to figure out what was going on before reacting. The other young woman who had her by the hand appeared to be watching over her and was saying to me, “I’m sorry sir, I’m sorry” as she led her friend away.
We were seated for lunch at a window table.
The Lady works with many special needs children at school and I told her about my encounter as we enjoyed lunch. I wanted to get some insight into the kinds of challenges there are.
Lunch was delightful and the staff was great, friendly, and fun to interact with. This was a special occasion for us. About half way through lunch the sun broke through the clouds for just a moment.
The cost for lunch was high but not outrageous. I did not ask for or receive a senior discount.
We wandered the rest of the afternoon, no real destination and the weather cooperated remaining just a light drizzle.
Here’s one of the sights around Curry Village.
We walked the loop trail that goes behind the Yosemite Village area between Yosemite Falls and the Ahwahnee. The trail is paved and runs right below the valley’s sheer granite walls. It is not near as busy as the main walk and bike ways. We passed a man and a woman, parents. Their child was in a high tech large wheeled stroller that they shared duties pushing. The child was the young woman I had encountered in the Ahwahnee. She was singing loudly, enjoying Yosemite. She was happy. She was loved. It was a nice reminder to get on my birthday, that when we allow it, joy will outweigh the challenges.
Those of you who have read one of my trip reports know we tend for the out of the way places and disperse camp where the neighbors won’t settle in around us. We start to get nervous when there are two rigs within sight. A Yosemite Valley campground is not one of those places.
When we returned to Upper Pines it was almost full. It is an older campground that has seen a lot of use. It is poorly laid out with very close campsites, built to accommodate huge crowds. The best access to water and the restrooms is a bee line directly through people’s sites. We had people walking by at all times running their hands along the camper in the dark.
There were several memorable people watching episodes.
Friday night the group across from us, several young men and one woman, were loud. The Lady dubbed them the “Loud People”. Standing in the rain around their fire they worked on the bravado of youth fueled with liquid refreshment. Overhearing a good conversation can sometimes be fun, but good conversation rarely includes continuous and non-creative use of the f word. And then they howled.
It rained all Friday night and into Saturday morning. The pleasant drumming on the roof helped with the din of campground life and we slept well.
I walked around our loop in the drizzle Saturday morning. I was curious as to why one campfire was blazing occasionally with flames 8 to 10 feet in height. The secret – a 2.5 gallon can of gasoline right next to the fire and poured directly on the fire when needed to rekindle the wet wood. As I continued around the loop I discovered for most early morning campfire starters, the accelerant of choice was charcoal starter fluid liberally applied. Burns must be a common injury treated at the Valley medical center.
Saturday afternoon and evening there was a fellow at the end of our loop with a deep affection for college football. He was kind enough to share his enthusiasm by having the radio broadcast loud enough for all to hear.
And then, to borrow Sunman’s terminology, two young men, feral Aussies, moved in next to us in the dark Saturday evening. As they were off loading their equipment to camp, one of them supplied the campground quote for this trip. He held up a large bottle high for his buddy to see. “I have no idea what is in this bottle but I’m going to drink it!” he said.
With my grousing about these episodes I must say they were more than tempered by the wonderful sights of small girls bundled up against the cold and rain, hopping from rock to rock, from curb to curb, happy to be on an adventure, occasionally looking back to see how far away they were from camp, working on their independence, enjoying being outside. Or, the young kids singing together with their family around the campfire, under a tarp, in the rain.
I learned large campgrounds like this are community living so just go with it.
Although it was still raining early Saturday morning we could see occasional breaks in the clouds overhead. Since it was close by and an easy retreat if the weather turned, we decided to head up the Mist Trail from nearby Happy Isles. When North Dome appeared in bright sun our hope for a nice day was buoyed.
The Mist Trail is the start of the long and wonderful John Muir Trail.
From one point on the trail we got a nice view of Illiloutte Fall.
With the big leaf maples and dogwoods the glory of fall was still hanging on in Yosemite Valley.
The Mist Trail takes you along the Merced River and around to the top of Vernal Fall.
The rock work with steps and the wet and the downed fall leaves were a visual treat.
At the top of Vernal Fall we had climbed into the sun. Our wool shirts came off and lay out to dry and warm in the sun. It was a wonderful morning.
We continued up the Mist Trail to Nevada Fall.
Although not in its spring high water glory, it is always spectacular.
We found a great spot to hang out, a nap in the sun, water and snacks.
The Lady loves “circles” so we decided to return via the John Muir Trail. It is longer but remains high on the canyon side. The views are outstanding. Here is Liberty Cap soaring above the top of Nevada Fall.
Since the John Muir Trail here is on the sheltered cold north facing side of the Merced River canyon, we figured there was a strong possibility of ice. We were not disappointed.
But, the views and the day just got better and better.
Looking back from the ledge was a wonderful view of Nevada Fall with Liberty Cap, Mount Broderick, and the back side of Half Dome.
The clouds working the back of Half Dome.
We continued our drop back into Yosemite Valley. Under the canopy of the cedars, oaks, and maple the chill returned. The surroundings were still incredible with the colors of fall.
After such a wonderful hike, how could we not be refreshed, restored, happy? We had wandered in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Back at Upper Pines Saturday afternoon, we warmed with a cup of Peets Coffee – Holiday blend. The weather had closed back in with a solid low cloud deck. We walked back out to the meadow just east of Yosemite Village hoping that the setting sun might put some last rays under the clouds and provide some spectacular light. Such was not the case as can be seen with the clouds low on Glacier Point above Curry Village.
We returned to camp after dark, had supper, and then sat outside. Our chairs were close as we stayed quiet in the dark. Embers from the various camp fires would climb toward the sky. Occasionally the clouds would open revealing the stars above and then close back in. The din of people and campground sounds were around us.
Our weekend trip was drawing to a close. Sunday dawned partly cloudy. We packed up early and left the truck in place. Check out time is noon. We once again donned our packs and set off to spend some time at Mirror Lake. Crossing the Merced we saw a nice view of Upper Yosemite Fall.
Late in the season Mirror Lake, only a wide spot in Tenaya Creek, is mostly gone. The views up at the face of Half Dome are incredible from here. There are well done interceptive signs posted and it was enjoyable to relax, stop, and read the varied information.
Some of the reflections, with the still morning air, were very nice.
Some of the nicest visuals were the dogwoods putting on their fall show.
On our way out of the Valley we stopped to pay our respects to the captain, El Capitan.
This chuck of granite makes you feel really small and it is sometimes good to feel small and in our place.
We spotted a couple of big wall climbers hanging out in their shelters waiting for the rock to warm.
It was time to head for home. It had been a great getaway for my birthday, full of happy times and certainly memorable.