Vajentic Family Western Odyssey: Week 2, Day 10 (Monday, July 22)

The Evergreen Lodge is a privately-owned facility just outside the northwest border of Yosemite National Park.  While planning for the trip, I had originally looked at staying in one of the several lodges within the park itself.  I was particularly drawn to the posh Ahwahnee, which is located right in the heart of Yosemite Valley.  It turns out that most of the park's lodging is booked well in advance of the one month with which I was working.  I stumbled upon the Evergreen Lodge on TripAdvisor, and it looked perfect!  It had beautiful, relatively new, yet rustic looking cabins that were nestled among sugar pines.  Our cabin had two bedrooms and a common area.  The cabins did not have TVs by design, in keeping with their philosophy of enjoying a retreat away from electronics.  The boys weren't crazy about this, but I loved it!  There was a nice little deck outside our front door on which we could sit and drink morning coffee.  A system of lighted walking trails wound throughout the property so you could get from one place to another without having to get in the car.  There were hammocks, horseshoes, benches carved out of tree trunks and various other neat little amenities sprinkled throughout the woods.  The property is anchored by its elegant main lodge, which houses the restaurant and tavern, and opens out back to a commons area that includes open dining, fire pits and ping-pong tables.  Behind the main lodge is the recreation center, which has board games and various park literature.  It even has an (extremely slow) Internet connection, which I only used to check Pirates scores every now and then during our stay.

It was in the recreation center that we gathered Monday morning for our guided tour of the park.  I had first tried to book a guided tour of Yosemite Valley, but it was sold out, so I instead chose the Yosemite High Country Naturalist Tour.  We met our personal tour guide, Bethany, around 8 AM, loaded up on sack lunch supplies and departed for the Yosemite high country.  Our first stop was a trail head where we would begin a mile hike into Tuolumne Grove to view giant sequoias.  Hiking into the grove was mostly downhill, so not too difficult.  The sugar pine cones along the trail were surreal.  Some of them were half the size of Benny!  It is illegal to remove the pine cones from the park, so we had to settle for pictures.  Bethany challenged us by asking which one of us would be the first to spot a sequoia.  Interestingly, you can't see these giant beasts until you are nearly upon them.  All of the sudden, we saw tree trunks seemingly four times the size of the next largest.  Our eyes followed the trunks upward as the foliage spread out into the heavens.  I was humbled by the fact that we were standing in the presence of organisms that have been alive since the time of Christ.  Just as stunning were the sequoias that had toppled for one reason or another.  I can only imagine what it must sound like when one of them fall, crushing all in their path.  There were many trees that had survived the onslaught of past forest fires, with the only scars being some charring on their trunks.  One of the fallen sequoias was hollowed out, and the boys had fun crawling through a portion of the trunk.

The hike back to the trail head was a bit more difficult, since we were more tired and it was uphill.  After returning to the car, we stopped for some gas and then headed east along HWY 120, retracing our path from the way into the park the previous day.  As we drove along, we enjoyed listening to Bethany's stories about wildlife and park history.  Our next stop was Tenaya Lake, where we would stop to eat our sack lunches.  We found a picnic table near the lake, and ate while taking in the breathtaking scenery.  After lunch, the boys wanted to wade in the cold waters of the lake.  At first, they timidly stuck their toes in the water.  Then they were ankle deep, then knee deep, then waist deep until finally they were full-out swimming.

Ben was having a blast, while Dominic was not quite sure he liked the cold water.  Sharon waded calf deep, while I stayed on the shore and surrounding boulders taking pictures.  I think it is a memory we will never forget, swimming in an alpine lake, looking at some of the most beautify scenic vistas we had every seen.

Shortly after leaving the lake I was disappointed to find that my camera battery was dead!  Bethany took us to the Visitor Center so that I could buy a disposable camera.  We next went to Tuolumne Meadows.  It began to rain a little bit, but that didn't stop us from getting out to go down to the banks of one of the beautiful stream tributaries of the Tuolumne River, where Bethany showed Ben and Dominic how to extract and purify water from the stream to drink.  I noticed a few fly-fisherman, working their craft in the rain.  It was a scene one may see depicted on a puzzle, or perhaps a painting.  The rain stopped, and we hiked back through the alpine meadow, with Bethany pointing out the various flora and fauna.  We saw several deer at close range.  I wanted to catch glimpse of a bear, but we had no such luck.  We came upon a picturesque bridge that crossed Delaney Creek.  Ben and Dominic had fun crawling on the rocks next to the stream.  We lingered at the bridge for a little while, under the gaze of Fairview Dome, which was to our southwest.  We took some family pictures with our disposable camera.  I wish I had my good camera available for some of the wildflowers.  It was soon time to hike back to the car, and begin the drive back to the Evergreen Lodge.  Along the way, Bethany continued to entertain us with stories.  She told us of the family from New York, whose matriarch was used to the finer things, and who, when told they were going to the top of Half Dome on the tour, earnestly asked in her New York accent, "Is there coffee on Half Dome"?  We saw a wildfire burning in the distance, and Bethany explained how these fires are allowed to burn themselves out, and are an important piece of the ecosystem of the park.  Interestingly, about a month after we left, we saw on the news that there were fires burning out of control near the Evergreen Lodge, which had to be evacuated!  We stopped at a few more scenic overlooks on our way back to the lodge, notably one from which we could see Half Dome in the distance.  Here, we had someone take a picture of us with Bethany.

As we arrived back at the lodge a little before 5 PM, I gave each of the boys some cash to give to Bethany for a tip.  She really was a great guide.  I think it's so nice to do these types of activities with someone that knows some history of the area.  We went back to our room to relax for a bit and to recharge the camera battery.  Sharon wanted to do some laundry, so she went to put in a few loads, and then we had dinner at the lodge resturaunt again, this time on the deck.  I had gumbo.  Bethany had informed us of a good place to see the sunset, so I gathered everyone up, to their dismay, and we headed out in the car again to try to find the perfect sunset.  We drove along Mather Road, which at times meanders along the rim of a canyon that drops down to the Tuolumne River.  The sun was quickly setting, and we tried to find the place which Bethany described.  The boys irritation grew as I kept driving.  Finally, we found a pull-off where some other people were stopped, and we decided to park here to view the sunset, unsure if it was the actual place Bethany had described.  In any case, we did get settled just in time to see the sun descend to the west in a blazing red ball of glory.  While the boys and Sharon may not agree, I thought it was well worth the hour excursion.

When we arrived back at the lodge, we headed over to pick up our laundry, and then went back to our room.  Sharon wanted to do a few more loads, so I took the boys up to the recreation area, where we had a blast playing ping-pong, shuffleboard and monopoly party until midnight.  Eventually, we headed back to our room for some well needed rest.  It was a fine day!



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