Before posting the rest of the adventure here (which is essentially the version I've sent off to my family - although SS is not mentioned as they don't know about her), I want to say that conversations and emails have helped the situation described yesterday. S was wonderful taking me out to Kirala last night and, sharing, with SS' permission, some information that gave me better insight.
It's a bit strange because in some ways what happened paralleled what would often happen between my mother and me in regards to my father and his feelings. But there was a huge difference. With my mother, I would sometimes feel that I didn't get to have my feelings because of what my father had experienced in his past. In this situation, I felt as though my feelings were valuable and I was cared for. Kinda cool outcome to a painful experience....
Now, on to our story:
An Account of our travels to Yosemite
So we packed up the car on Friday morning and headed out. We were heading to the Southern entrance of the park, so we took a circuitous route there and spent nearly 4 hours on the road. Getting into the park was just fine, although there was already snow on the ground and the roads before hitting the park. But mostly the roads were good and no chains were required, at that point.
We checked into the Wawona Hotel. It is a beautiful set of buildings that vary in ages. Since they were primarily built for summer use, they can be a little chilly and we didn’t get to take advantage of the gorgeous porches and chairs available to us. We napped after our drive, then headed up to the main hotel building for dinner and spend the evening listening to Tom Bopp. He plays piano, sings, and generally just entertains. We had holiday songs to sing along to, and it was Tom’s 50th Birthday, so he broke out all sorts of tunes for his family and friends that he doesn’t usually share. It was a lovely night.
We got up the next morning, checked out, and headed to Badger Pass ski area. But there’s not just skiing…we were going for a ranger led snowshoe hike. S and I over-estimated my stamina, though, and I didn’t get very far before I was frustrated and crying. Also, I was walking strangely and my legs were getting tired and sore. I took a look at one of the hills that the others had trudged up and said, “no more for me.” SS was able to make it all the way to the ridge. We saw pictures. It was beautiful. We headed back to the lodge for lunch and rest.
From there we were on our way to the Ahwahnee Hotel. This is the luxury hotel in Yosemite that was built in the ‘20s. It is gorgeous. The rooms all have wonderful views. There is a “great lounge” that looks like it was constructed on the model of a castle’s Great Hall – huge fireplaces and all. Another gorgeous room was the dining hall (where Bracebridge dinner would be held). We didn’t check-in right away, but picked up tickets to go to see a performance called “The Spirit of John Muir.” That John Muir did wonderful things promoting the park, but he was a little crazy. I’ve ordered a book of his essays, now that I’m home.
We had a lovely dinner at Yosemite Lodge and got to enjoy the full moon, then headed back to the Ahwahnee to check-in and collapse in bed early.
In the morning, after breakfast, we attended the Wee Wild Ones lecture that was given by one of the park interpreters. It was a hoot to see this little kids run around looking for acorns. S and SS headed off for a hike to Vernal Falls, but I was still feeling the snowshoeing from yesterday, so I stayed back and read and drank hot chocolate in the lounge by the fire.
After a late lunch, we hung out in the lounge singing carols with other guests, then they had a big ritual to light a Yule log, then Santa was there. Not long after that, we were back in the lounge to listen to a chorale presentation of all sorts of songs from musicals. It was really fun, and a bit of a precursor to Bracebridge, as the choral group was the same as performs at the dinner.
We had dinner, then, since the moon was shining, we headed out for a moonlit hike to Yosemite Falls. It’s not very forceful in the winter, but it was beautiful in the moonlight – and we were the only ones there! We also spent a few minutes laying in a meadow staring up at the incredibly bright stars. It was 2:30 a.m. when we got back, so we were quick to bed…Monday was going to be a busy day!
We had a snack bar for breakfast and headed out for a guided Ahwahnee tour. It was interesting, but we knew a lot of the history already as S had read out loud the history of the building of the Ahwahnee on the way there. Still, it was cool to get the perspective of the guides. Shortly after that was a presentation on the history of Bracebridge dinner…which it would be appropriate, then, to share here.
Bracebridge began the same year that the Ahwahnee opened. Yosemite in 1927 was not known for its winter visitors. Since travel was still not smooth into the valley in the winter, tourism there had to be nurtured. Bracebridge was one of the first ideas for drawing people. It is a musical and dramatic presentation of an imagined old English dinner at a Baron’s manor. The inspiration comes from Washington Irving’s stories of Squire Bracebridge.
For many years, Ansel Adams performed in or produced much of the production. It is now performed by a chorus group made up of singers from all over CA – many of whom sing in the SF Opera company. Most of the songs are original to the production and change over time (since people tend to come back year after year for the performance), although there are traditional Christmas hymns and carols that make their appearance. Attendees are treated as “guests” at the manor and each of the 7 courses is announced as a part of the production.
Most of the rest of the day was spent in preparation for attending the dinner. We had a light lunch, napped, showered, got dressed, then went down to the great lounge for singing and taking pictures by the Christmas trees.
Then the horns were sounding and it was time to line up to be seated. The dining room had been transformed into an old English manor with a head table and servers. Wine was flowing freely (although we didn’t drink any, except the wassail towards the end). It was quite amazing, if nothing else, that they are able to pull such a thing off. There are 300 people at each of the 8 dinners. 7 courses, including a fish, fowl, and meat dish with salad, soup, starter and dessert.
The performance is very entertaining, and the Lord of Misrule (the jester) took liberties with drawing guests into the performance. We were seated on the inside by the windows, though, so we got to sit during the whole thing. The voices were superb, the costumage was so fun for a woman with her emphasis in Tudor/Stuart England. I had a fabulous time.
And, even though it was early (10:30 p.m.) by the time we got back to our room, I was exhausted. I fell into bed and slept very well that night.
We woke on Christmas morning and, after checking out of the Ahwahnee, S and I wandered around Yosemite Village and the Miwok village recreation while SS went to Christmas Mass. We had lunch at the food court at Yosemite Lodge where I got to see a wonderful sight: a penguin toy, dressed up as Rudolph! I also called home, of course. It was the best reception in the area.
We left there and headed back up to Badger Pass. Once there we spent a few hours snow tubing. Unfortunately, there is also where the camera died. S is going to try to get someone techy to see if the memory card is still readable, but we fear that all the photos are lost. It’s very sad, since there are some wonderful pics on there.
We drove down to Wawona that night, and just managed to get dinner reservations, as it hadn’t really occurred to us that there might be a Christmas dinner being served special there. And there was. It was quite nummy, but I’d made a tactical error in eating chili at the food court at lunch and my stomach was not so happy. I only really nibbled at most of the meal – Fear not! I ate all of the chocolate crème brulee.
We again spent the evening in the lounge listening to Tom Bopp. He shared a slide show presentation of the history of the Wawona, which was really cool. The first owner of the property had not intended to become an innkeeper, but when travelers would show up, he’d invariably end up giving them his bed. He expanded the cabin, I believe, just so he could stop sleeping on the floor.
The beds in the Wawona are a bit harder than I liked…and the beds at the Ahwahnee were a bit softer. I told S I felt a bit like Goldilocks, pining for my own bed, which was “just right.” Still, I slept well – it had been a long eventful day.
The next morning, after breakfast, we took a short hike out to see the hanging bridge across the Merced River. The river was running low, so we were able to climb down onto the rocks and play right by the stream. We walked along the bank for a bit as we came back.
It started snowing as we started driving out of the park. We stopped for lunch just outside the park, and by the time we were on the road again, those coming in were all chained up. Luckily, we didn’t have to do that again (we had to chain and unchain every time we went to Badger Pass).
Not much to tell after that. We were home by evening and the unpacking was begun.