sonoma county to first night in yosemite [travel journal continued]

In my last travel-journal entry, we had our last night in Sonoma County and were getting ready to drive to Yosemite.

We hit the road early, driving down to the Bay Area, then east to Yosemite. As we drove in and out of the Bay Area, the sky was frequently dotted with hawks, soaring and gliding over the vineyards. Little critters come to eat the grapes, and the hawks come to eat the critters. I love birds of prey (part of my thing for carnivorous animals) and it was beautiful to see so many hawks.

We stopped in the town of Tracy to do laundry, buy some food - and eat more In-N-Out! There was an In-N-Out billboard on the highway, which is why we chose the town for our pit stop. [Idea for phone app: In-N-Out locator.]

Past Tracy, it was all farmland, both cattle grazing on ranches and seemingly endless orchards. There are many farm stands selling corn, berries, peaches, almonds and "ice cold melons".

The drive in and out of Yosemite National Park is a long approach, up a winding road into mountains and through some tiny historic towns. Once you hit the park entrance, it's many more miles to wherever you're staying - which is part of the point. As I've mentioned, if you visit Yosemite or any other large US National Park, you want to plan ahead to be able to stay in the park, or persist in trying to get a spot through a last-minute cancellation. If not, you'll spend many boring, frustrating hours driving back and forth each day. The Park is huge, requiring hours of driving to see things anyway. You don't to spend all day driving.

Within Yosemite itself, there are expensive luxury accommodations, campsites and a few things in between. Most visitors stay in Curry Village, almost a city itself - crowded, noisy and annoying. We would have done that if we had to, but I called frequently to check on cancellations, and was finally rewarded with a spot in the White Wolf area. We had a "tent cabin," which is a large tent with a cement floor; each tent sleeps four on cots. It includes linens, towels, a wood stove (with wood, kindling, lighter fluid and matches), candles, and a few folding chairs. There's no electricity and you use community showers and toilets in the centre of the camp.

There's a lodge building that serves as office, store and restaurant. The store sells a little of everything, with no markup: two beers, chips and coffee were $7.00. At the lodge, you can have an all-you-can-eat hot breakfast buffet for less than $10.00 per person. At dinner, you share tables with other people and are served by eager and well-meaning, if a bit over-matched, camp staff. Dinner is also all-you-can-eat: fresh salad, soup, entree, vegetable, potatoes, dessert for under $20. The setting is very pretty, not at all institutional. The food was very good and a great value.

That's the plus side of the tent-cabin thing. On the negative side, the biggest drawback is negotiating the vissicitudes of the bear box, as I explained here. You don't have a private bathroom, but I don't find that a big deal for a few days. The showers are designed for drought conditions, to dissuade you from taking an indulgently long shower - a drawback when you return sweaty and dusty from hiking. But the real inconvenience was keeping our toiletries in a bear box that was difficult to lock and unlock.

However, given the choices, I would choose White Wolf every time. I don't camp, and I no longer apologize for that (although I am beyond tired of people who enjoy camping laughing at me, as if the desire to go camping bespeaks some natural superiority). I have only been real tent camping twice in my life, and I absolutely hated it. I don't need luxury, but I need to sleep in a bed, not on the ground, and I need a hot shower. White Wolf let us avoid massive crowds, was affordable, was in a beautiful secluded setting - and gave me the bed and the shower.

Our first night, we found we were woefully unprepared for the campground experience. This was a complicated trip for which to prepare - city, wedding, park - and it was inevitable that some things would slip through the cracks. What's more, the campground web page could have been more helpful; a list of essential items to pack would have been good. We were unprepared for cold nights and mornings (which is fine for me, but most people would have been very uncomfortable), and most importantly, we didn't bring a flashlight. The tent cabins don't have electricity and the generators for the washroom lights turn off overnight.

That night, we had dinner at the lodge, which was really nice. We sat next to a Dutch couple and talked about the differences between the Netherlands, Canada and the US. They understood the whole picture - how we want Canada to be more like the Netherlands and less like the US. They had been in New York, San Francisco, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. By coincidence, there were other Dutch people at the table, a guy who is living and working in San Diego and his friends who were visiting him. (Surfer dudes, road trip to Vegas, whoo-hoo!)

After dinner, we picked our way back through the dark to the tent and used the car headlights to find our things!

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